Old cap to big apple
Head buried in his palms, Michael Wiseman anxiously hears his son’s name announced at the No. 10 tee box Thursday.
‘From Corydon, Indiana, Timothy Wiseman.’
He made it.
It almost didn’t matter where Timothy put that first tee shot, playing in the U.S. Open Championship at famed Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., he was there.
Ripping a hybrid off the tee, his ball rolling down a slope that would rival those at Paoli Peaks, Timothy’s first shot at a major golf tournament versus the world’s best halted 326 yards perfectly in the middle of the fairway.
It was a blast that sent Timothy on his way to compete in 36 grueling holes at one of the toughest courses professional golfers will face. Here was Timothy, an amateur from Indiana, one of 9,049 entries to make it to the show not backing down from the challenge.
A Ball State University senior-to-be, it was as if Timothy’s first taste of a professional golf tournament was jumping into the World Series without playing minor league baseball.
Through qualifiers, Timothy earned his spot in the U.S. Open. Although he missed the cut come Friday afternoon, the experience was one to last a lifetime. Little brother Joey Wiseman grinned wide as the first tee shot was launched behind the wind while dad came out of his seat with a fist-pump. Michael, meeting with his wife, Jennifer, next to the fairway at No. 10, rushed to a warm embrace as proud parents.
They were in the midst of dreams turning to reality. Pinch-me moments.
Timothy took preparation for the U.S. Open as serious as any of the pros. As the greens were being cut by herds of grounds crew members with the sun falling behind the trees the night before Thursday’s competition began, Timothy was still on the course. He took advantage of every moment.
Beyond the golf, Timothy said the support meant more to him than the results.
‘I’m not sure I could put it in words,’ Timothy said of the backing. ‘I think that has been my favorite part since I qualified. As soon as I qualified, I had 150 texts it seemed like. People have been telling me indirectly, through family and close friends, people I don’t know are rooting for me. I was told there were people in Chicago rooting for me, some in Indianapolis. I didn’t know them, but they know of me. That’s been my favorite part of the whole week, the support. I can’t put it into words, but it’s incredible.’
Thursday, the 7,448-yard, par-70 course, believed to be the oldest formal organized golf club in the United States, was played in a 20 to 30 mile-per-hour shifting wind. The greens were fast and severely sloped at spots and the rough stretching to kneecaps in areas. Timothy shot a 13-over par 83, carding pars on half the holes.
‘Off the tee, I felt solid,’ Timothy said. ‘Chipping into the greens and putting along with accuracy is kind of what hurt me. That’s the way it is. It’s not an easy golf course. It being my first professional round in a major, I couldn’t expect a whole lot.’
A pep talk with his swing coach, Greg Graham, Ball State University coach Mike Fleck and his father helped him refocus for the next day.
‘I wasn’t happy with the score (Thursday), but we talked about making it a one-day tournament,’
Timothy said. ‘I wanted to show I can be resilient and post a good come-back round. That is what was on my mind. I threw the 83 away and came out to shoot the best I could.’
Friday was like a different Timothy on the course. He avoided big scores (six bogeys, one birdie) with 11 pars. Certainly respectable on a day when he shot better than 36 professionals, including Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar and veteran Ernie Els. The score tied for 10th among amateurs on Friday.
‘I felt solid all day,’ Timothy said. ‘My goal going into the week was to avoid the big numbers. I had one Thursday, but I didn’t have one today. I was able to maintain that consistency throughout.’
The money hole was the par-5 fifth. A long distance of 583 yards, Timothy had to hit his second shot from a tough lie near a fairway bunker, putting him 140 yards from the green. Nailing the approach, Timothy was left with a less than four-foot putt for birdie. When he sank it through a chilly early mist, his following of family and friends let out a huge ovation.
‘It was a long time coming,’ Timothy said of the birdie. ‘I hit a good shot in there. As I walked up, I kept telling myself this was a really good opportunity to make this one. When it went in, it was ‘OK, I got it out of the way’.’
After his final shot went in on the 18th green Friday, the constant fixed focus look of Timothy washed away. It was smiles, hugs and photos with everyone who followed him. He even took a moment to grab a golf glove and ball to hand out to a young fan.
‘Obviously, we wanted to play a little bit better and probably could have, but a lot of people don’t realize this is one of the toughest golf courses in the world,’ said Graham, who has been Timothy’s swing coach since sixth grade. ‘For him to go out and shoot 75 today, he beat a lot of tour players. That’s saying something to come back from a not-so-good round yesterday. He didn’t pack it in, and he never does. He came here to win.’
Fleck, his college coach, said he wanted to give Timothy some space as he prepared. He offered simple advice: ‘Have fun and compete the way you know how.’
‘He’s handled it great,’ Fleck said. ‘He texted me immediately after (Thursday’s) round and asked if he handled himself OK. I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ He’s in the U.S. Open and making us all damn proud. He’s a first-class kid and first-class golfer. I’m just fortunate that we get to spend another year with him.’
Tommy Wiseman, who caddied for his younger brother, said the emotions of qualifying for the U.S. Open were greater than competing in New York.
‘On the first tee, which was No. 10, my heart was really racing then,’ Tommy said. ‘After he hit that one, it wasn’t too bad.’
Tommy lauded Timothy’s focus and play at the event, which was won by defending champion Brooks Koepka.
‘He’s so smooth and so cool,’ Tommy said. ‘(Thursday) he showed his true self. He didn’t play as well as he wanted to, but he hung with it. I think I was more frustrated than he was, and I’m not playing. He’s cool under pressure. When things go good or go bad, he’s thinking about hitting the next shot. It shows how he came back today.’
Timothy said his a-ha moment was anticipated but still happened.
‘This week leading up to it, I thought seeing Tiger (Woods) for the first time up close would be when it hit me, and it did,’ Timothy said. ‘When I was on the practice green, he walked in from where the players come from and he seemed different. He’s not any different than any of us, but it was like he was super human. It was a ‘whoa’ moment when he walked right by me. This is a guy that has won a lot of majors, and I’m here. This is the real deal. I took in the moment but went right back to being focused on what I was working on.’
There will be plenty of stories to be told at the Old Capital Golf Club when Timothy or the family stops in during the next days, weeks or months.
‘I’ll have plenty of stuff to talk about,’ Timothy said. ‘I don’t think that will ever get old. It goes back to the support. People are going to want to know what I went through and what I have to say. I look forward to it. It means a lot to me.’
When Timothy qualified in a dramatic playoff, Corydon residents and family friends Chris Fessel and Isaac Nalley made the decision to quickly book a flight to New York.
‘He is playing in his Super Bowl,’ Nalley said. ‘You can’t miss it. You’ve watched him grow up ‘ playing ball at the ball park as a little kid, playing basketball … and now we are in New York watching him play the U.S. Open. It’s the biggest stages. It’s amazing.’
Fessel grew up with Michael Wiseman and considers his parents, Mark and Melinda Wiseman, who also made the trip, as his second parents. He even saw Timothy in the hospital when he was born.
‘When Isaac called me and told me he may qualify, growing up knowing them, it was a no brainer,’ Fessel said. ‘As soon as he made it, we knew it was a chance of a lifetime. It’s someone we know going to the U.S. Open for crying out loud.’
All the big names ‘ Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Woods ‘ were in the field, but the focus for ‘Team Wiseman’ was Timothy.
‘From spending time with the family and watching Timothy compete has been special,’ Fessel said. ‘We have ignored the other players because we were here to see Timothy. He was our marquee player. It was pretty awesome and well worth it.’
Not backing down against the winds and fast greens, Timothy left Shinnecock with a smile.
‘It’s his ability to compete and make the most out of every round,’ Fleck said of what sets Timothy apart. ‘If he’s playing well or not playing well, he’s going to get something out of his round of golf. He’s a grinder, and that’s the mentality you have to have playing college golf on hard golf courses. It’s no surprise to me that he’s having success here this week because of that mentality.’
As family dispersed near the clubhouse Friday, Timothy was eager to unwind and reflect.
‘I haven’t been alone yet,’ he said. ‘I think once I settle down, take my shoes off, it will hit me. I’m not sure it has yet.’