Buckley turns to Plan C and earns late tee time at US Open

BROOKLINE, Mass. (AP) — Calculus and chemistry were too difficult. No one took him seriously as a baseball player either.

“I had dreams,” said Hayden Buckley, “but those were crushed soon enough.”

Golf is the dream these days. And it’s not so far-fetched to think that this 26-year-old, whose plan A was baseball and plan B was the health administration, could win the US Open.

Buckley shot his second straight 68 on Friday to enter the weekend at 4-under 136, tied for third. He was one of five to reach the Country Club through qualifying and now finds himself in the top 11 of the standings.

It’s no exaggeration to say it’s a blow in the dark for a guy who came in at No. 259 and missed six of the last seven PGA Tour Cups. But it wouldn’t be the first time he’s beaten long odds.

Buckley’s career took off in February 2021 when he showed up at the driving range for a Korn Ferry Tour event in Florida while it was still dark and before he got a spot in the tournament.

“Luckily I only live an hour south,” he said.

Thanks to a late takedown, Buckley made the field. Then he won the whole thing in the playoffs.

That led to his PGA Tour card for this season, and a healthy dose of confidence, to boot.

“I know from experience what a week can do,” Buckley said. “I think you see it every week. You see it in the guys who qualified this week and made cuts. Everyone improves their professional status and I think a lot about this tournament.

To say that Buckley took the most direct route to professional golf? Not true.

His father played baseball at Ole Miss and Buckley hoped to follow in his footsteps. But scouts didn’t call and “the two local colleges just told me I wasn’t going to play on their team,” he said.

“I thought I would be in MLB now, but at 5-11 and 150 pounds,” he said, as the thought faded.

Moving on to a “real” career, Buckley pointed to a major in health sciences and possibly a job in health administration. Calculus and chemistry got in the way.

“I barely made it this semester and I knew it wasn’t for me,” Buckley said.

In a golf.com interview earlier this year, he described himself as “so bad at golf in high school golf” that it didn’t seem to fit. He couldn’t break 80. But he kept working at it.

The Missouri coach hired him as what’s called a “2%” purse, basically a walk-on. He was the 15th player on a 15-man roster for the Tigers at the start. He embraced the underdog role. Four years later, Buckley was a third-team All-American and male athlete of the year at Mizzou.

Four years later, he finds himself with a late tee time on the weekend at the US Open.

“I think once you realize that’s what you want,” Buckley said, “you just have to pursue it.”

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