Rice player in his first pro tournament
UPDATE: Michael Whitehead shot a 6 over par 77 in the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday.
What a difference a month — and a week — makes for Michael Whitehead.
A month ago, the 23-year-old Sugar Land native was a senior at Rice University, the captain of the Rice golf team and the Conference USA Golfer of the Year. He won his first collegiate tournament in March after coming in second four times.
Just over a week ago Whitehead was just short of a trip to the U.S. Open, after a three-way playoff round at the Dallas Athletic Club southwest qualifier left him in third place as the first alternate.
But today Whitehead is playing in the Open — his first professional tournament — after Tiger Woods withdrew due to knee and Achilles injuries.
As Woods' replacement, Whitehead has drawn plenty of attention as he headed to Maryland earlier this week to prepare to take on the course at the Congressional Country Club.
"I've gotten more press this way than if I had just qualified [outright]," he said at a press conference on Tuesday. "You hear people watching me in the gallery whispering, 'He's the guy that replaced Tiger.'"
Whitehead says he's knows he is no real replacement for the superstar Woods, but that's it's been fun seeing their names together in articles.
On and off the golf course Whitehead is making the best of his Rice connections. He's staying at an apartment owned by the mother of another Rice alum, and he's brought along former Rice golf coach Drew Scott as his caddy. He's also getting advice on the course from Rice alums Trevor Randolph, the defending Congressional club champion, and Jim Duke, a Congressional member and a volunteer marshal for the tournament.
"We've dubbed the place the Owls' Nest," Whitehead said. "It's very comfortable to have friendly faces around."
Regardless of how Whitehead performs, he says he's excited to meet some of the big name players. Plus he's got his wedding in July to look forward to. And since Whitehead has yet to make a dime playing golf, ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski is hoping for a good finish so that he and his bride can move out of his garage apartment:
"Root for the guy to cash a check!"