Michael Allen realizes career goal at Olympic
SAN FRANCISCO -- Michael Allen walked off the pathway and into the media interview room on Thursday. The smallish space jutted out from the backside of the main clubhouse, just off the No. 8 hole at Olympic Club.
"Where's the pool?" Allen asked, looking around. "There used to be a pool in here, right? We used to swim in here."
The pool, it turns out, is temporarily covered by a large plywood floor. But Allen knows the lay of the land at the U.S. Open.
The 53-year-old grew up just south down the freeway in San Mateo, Calif. He's been a member of this club since he was 14 years old. As a young pro back in 1987, he geared his entire career path toward qualifying to play the U.S. Open on this golf course. And he came up short.
In 1998, he very nearly played his way in, ending up as the first alternate. And somehow he still didn't get in the field, because nobody dropped out.
But on Thursday, in front of family and friends and fellow club members, Allen finally teed off in the U.S. Open at Olympic.
By the time his afternoon was over, a little before 3 p.m., the oldest player in the field had used his home-course advantage to get in contention.
Allen's 1-over 71 puts him five shots off the pace. Michael Thompson leads the field after the first round at 4 under.
He narrowly missed finishing at even par, bogeying the par-3 No. 8, his final hole of the day. His eagle on 14 was one of the opening day's highlights. In the 2,000 times Allen estimates that he has played this golf course in his life, he had never had an eagle on 14.
"I'm not sure I've even birdied it," Allen said. "It took me three years before I could actually get to the green in two."
Allen assessed a day that was like no other in his long, twisty career. His scorecard included five bogeys, two birdies and the eagle that will keep him within striking distance and in good shape to make the cut.
"I started out not playing very good," Allen said. "I couldn't get the ball in the fairway and the rough's a little spotty. But after my start, I was pleased with the way I finished."
Allen, who lives in Arizona, isn't some out-of-nowhere sensation, though one might accurately call him a journeyman. He has done his fair share of time in qualifying schools and is certainly a late bloomer.
He has never won in 368 starts on the PGA Tour, and his best U.S. Open finish was 12th in 2001.
Yet he is the leading money-winner on the Champions Tour this year with more than $1 million in earnings. He has five top-three finishes in 10 events and two wins on the senior tour this season. His game seems to be getting better with age.
But this weekend has been his holy grail, the experiences he's aimed at for 25 years.
Allen estimated that he played Olympic 100 times a year when he was "a kid."
But he never played in the club championship. As a junior player, he was too young. As he got older, he was never around, playing professionally instead.
Earlier this week, Allen said this is "my club championship."
He said he bought 30 tickets for family and friends to come out and see him play.
"And they are expensive," he cracked. And he has friends and fellow members lining the course along the way.
"This is the only round I've played in competition here," Allen said. "So for me, it's the best round so far. You go out with your buddies and play and shoot 66 or 67 and, yeah, you've played better, but it has never been a U.S. Open. And this is a completely different golf course than I played as a member."
For all of the years he'd been waiting to play this tournament at this place, Allen said he felt "really comfortable and calm" when his round began.
"I believe in myself and I know what I can do out here," Allen said. "I want to get [my score] under par. I would love to get it under par by the end of tomorrow for sure."
When Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson closed their round at No. 8, the grassy hill next to the green was packed body-to-body. Allen walked the fairway to hit his bunker short in front of considerably more open grass.
A few fans cheered heartily as he closed his round with a short putt.
But then, like Woods, Mickelson and Watson, he signed his scorecard and was ushered to the TV tent to do a live network interview, followed by an interview session in the media "flash" room, which he remembers as the place he used to swim.
Instead of spending his evening pouring over his scorecard or watching video of his performance, like he might have done when he was a little younger, he has something else in mind.
"I'm going to go have dinner with some friends, drink a few cocktails and relax and try and enjoy this," Allen said.