By David Shefter and Dave Shedloski
Pebble Beach, Calif. - A lot of good things generally come with a Stanford University degree.
A starting time at Pebble Beach during U.S. Open week, however, isn't generally a benefit of the diploma.
Unless your name is Joseph Bramlett. The 22-year-old graduated on Sunday and was playing a practice round with fellow Cardinal Tiger Woods on Tuesday morning in preparation for the 2010 U.S. Open.
Now that's a graduation present.
"It was awesome," said Bramlett of his pairing with the world's top-ranked golfer. "I got to learn a lot from him and his caddie, Stevie. It was an exciting day."
Not long after Bramlett qualified on June 7 in Sacramento, Stanford coach Conrad Ray, a former teammate of Woods in Palo Alto, e-mailed Tiger to let him know that Bramlett had made the field. Arrangements were quickly made for a practice round.
It wasn't Bramlett's first encounter with Woods. He and his Stanford mates had been guests at Tiger's Isleworth home three times during a college tournament that is annually held in the private Windermere, Fla., community. Woods also visited Stanford last fall prior to the Presidents Cup at Harding Park in San Francisco.
"I've gotten to know him over the years," said Bramlett.
It also seemed appropriate that Pebble Beach is the host course for Bramlett's first U.S. Open. Five years ago, he aced the par-3 fifth hole during a semifinal match at the California Amateur. He lost in the final the next day to Don Dubois. In 2006, he was a semifinalist at the California Amateur.
"He's got good karma here," said Ray.
And Bramlett says he's completely healthy entering the Open. Over the past two years, his collegiate career was interrupted for two separate right-wrist injuries, the first suffered in January of 2008 when he slipped while running wind sprints and the second 11 months later when he was biking to a Stanford classroom to turn in a final exam. He flipped over the handlebars and was sidelined until January of 2010.
"Two fluke accidents," said Bramlett, a five-time U.S. Amateur qualifier, including 2002 at Oakland Hills when he was the youngest qualifier in the championship's history at age 14. "I missed three half-seasons."
All of which makes his U.S. Open entry that much more special. A Northern California native from Saratoga, Bramlett came to the 2000 Open at Pebble to watch Friday's second round with his parents. Only 12 at the time, Bramlett knew that someday he wanted to be inside those ropes.
"And now I am finally getting the chance," said Bramlett, who plans to remain an amateur until PGA Tour Qualifying School this fall. "It's really come full circle for me."
Bramlett said there have been plenty of requests for tickets from friends and family. Fortunately, he doesn't have to worry about them.
"My mom is handling that," he said. "That way I can focus on golf a little bit. There have been quite a few people. A lot of people can get tickets on their own."
Bramlett is appreciative of the support, but says his gallery pales in comparison to that of Tiger Woods.
"I don't have Tiger fans," he said with a laugh. "There is a lot of local support, which has been great. It's really awesome. People are sending me texts: 'Go Get 'em. Good luck. We're behind you.' It's been a lot of fun."
Getting There Half The Battle
Not long after the euphoria of making this year's had worn off, Jon Curran realized that physically getting to Pebble Beach was just as challenging as the qualifying process.
"It wasn't like getting into the car and driving to Bethpage," said Curran, who edged PGA Tour player Parker MacLachlin in a one-hole playoff for the final qualifying spot at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J.
Fortunately, Curran, a 2009 Vanderbilt graduate who currently plays on various mini-tours, has a support group at home and in Orlando, Fla., where agent Drew Carr from Fidelity Sports Group helped come up with expense money. His father and members at Framingham (Mass.) C.C. have also assisted Curran since he turned pro last June.
"If I didn't have that, it would have dragged on a lot more than a couple of days," he said. "They've been there when I needed them."
Curran arrived on Saturday to get in some practice rounds before the crowds arrived on Monday. His dad and sister will come in on Wednesday, but his mom still has fourth-grade teaching duties back home.
On Monday Curran played with fellow Vanderbilt graduate and 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Brandt Snedeker and Marc Leishman. On Tuesday, he started on the 10th tee with John Senden, with Tiger Woods and Tom Watson looming in the background.
"It's a 500-yard par 4 with the Pacific Ocean on the right side," said Curran. "I hit it all right. I didn't want to make a fool out of myself.
"You want to keep your game plan. You want to treat it like any other tournament or otherwise you get swallowed up. You can't let your head wander. You have to pull back and keep everything in perspective. I don't want to jump in too deep. I'm trying to go slowly and not get overwhelmed."
An Getting To Know Pebble
U.S. Amateur champion Byeong-Hun An has played two practice rounds at Pebble Beach, so he's still a relative novice when it comes to understanding the intricacies of the famed layout along the Pacific Ocean. That doesn't mean he doesn't have a good handle on the task ahead of him at the 110th U.S. Open.
"The course is really spectacular … but it's really, really hard," An, 18, said Tuesday morning as he toured the course with Stuart Appleby, K.J. Choi and Deane Pappas. "It's not a long course, so that's not much of an issue, but the greens are really firm and hard, and you have to know where you want to hit it off the tee because you can get in trouble pretty quickly."
An, the youngest U.S. Amateur winner after defeating Ben Martin last year at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., said he had few expectations for scoring this week. But that didn't mean he wasn't going to enjoy himself.
"You see the design of the holes and the views and it's a neat place. I love being here," he said. "You know, as long as I play smart I think I'll do OK. There really aren't a lot of birdies out there, and you need to make some somewhere because you just know, with the course as hard as it is now, you're going to make some bogeys. But I'm having a great time. It's about as cool a place as you could ever imagine."
Youngster Gets Rare Open Treat
Davis Goodman of Bakersfield, Calif., received quite a thrill in his first trip to the U.S. Open.
The youngster, 4½ years old, got his picture taken with 2007 U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera, Camilo Villegas and Miguel Angel Jimenez Tuesday morning during the second day of official practice rounds. Goodman asked Cabrera to sign his souvenir flag, but the Argentine instead invited him to join the trio on the second tee, calling Goodman "Little Amigo." Goodman's father, Mike, a history teacher, snapped the photograph.
Davis said his favorite players are Cabrera, Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods, and he was hoping to get autographs of the latter two players later in the day.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer who can be reached at email@example.com. Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.