Three advance in Step 1 toward Merion for U.S. Open golf tournament

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Dan Obremski should be comfortable playing in qualifiers. After all, he spends a lot of Mondays trying to qualify for PGA Tour events.

Obremski, 26, a Penn-Trafford High School graduate, hasn't had much luck in those Monday qualifiers on the big tour. But he certainly had plenty of that -- and game -- Wednesday in the local qualifier for the U.S. Open at Westmoreland Country Club in Export.

Obremski made six birdies en route to a 5-under 66 to grab one of the three qualifying spots in a field of 55 players.

"I've been all over trying to get in -- Florida, Texas, Carolina," Obremski said. "I'm right there. This is my lowest round of the year. I'm definitely pumped about it."

Obremski was one of three players to advance to a 36-hole sectional qualifier, the final step on the road to the U.S. Open June 12-15 at Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia. The other qualifying spots went to teaching professional Kevin Shields of the Robert Morris University golf dome and former mini-tour player Dan Konieczny of Mount Pleasant, each of whom shot 68.

Three other players missed by one shot of forcing a playoff -- former PGA Tour player Bob Friend, Butler Country Club pro Rob McClellan and Oakmont caddie Aaron Williams, a member at Willowbrook Country Club. Friend and McClellan earned the two alternate spots in a playoff.

"The Open is the Open," said Obremski, who has been playing mini-tours since graduating from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "I just wanted to get through the local and hopefully get through the sectional. I'll worry about the Open if I get there."

It wasn't much of a struggle for Obremski, who went out in 33 on the front and made three birdies on the back to offset his only bogey at the short par-4 12th. He even layed up with a 4-iron off the tee at the 348-yard finishing hole, knowing he had a two-shot cushion.

That was unlike Shields, whose bogey-free round included a kick-in birdie from 2 inches at the 438-yard 16th that gained him one of the qualifying spots. Shields also needed a 20-foot putt to save par at No. 17 to protect his spot.

It was the same with Konieczny, who hit a wedge to 2 feet for birdie at the final hole to tie Shields and gain the final qualifying spot.

"I played qualifier golf -- no bogeys, no mistakes," Shields said. "It's two shots higher than if you were playing tournament golf. You don't want to need birdies late, so you plod along. Even though you could have come here and blown out a bunch of birdies, you don't."

That mindset proved to be the correct formula for Shields, who will go to Columbus, Ohio, for a 36-hole sectional qualifier.

Konieczny, though, is trying to re-calibrate his mindset and his game after losing his full-time job and moving to Jupiter, Fla. But, with really nowhere to play, he said he has played just 10 rounds in the past year. That's why he was thrilled, not to mention surprised, with his round that included five birdies.

"The last time I played in any type of one-day event was May of 2012," Konieczny said. "It's expensive to play golf and the mini-tours don't pay any money."

That's the problem Obremski faces, too. But to help cover his expenses, he has held a tournament at Hannastown Golf Club in Greensburg the past three years to raise money.

It's all part of chasing his dream.

mobilehome - golf

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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