— If Tiger Woods is the star attraction and host of the AT&T National tournament beginning Thursday at Congressional Country Club, Beau Hossler is certainly high on the marquee.
Golf fans — and plenty of others — now know Beau.
A year after playing here as a virtually unknown 16-year-old amateur in theU.S. Open, Hossler returns as something of a social media phenomenon after staying in contention — and briefly leading — this year's Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco earlier this month.
Hossler ended up tied for 29th after a final round of 6-over par 76. On the final day of the Open, Hossler woke up to find himself among Twitter's top trending topics .
"Obviously I think I'm a bigger name this year than last year [at the Open]," said Hossler Tuesday afternoon. "But it's really great because especially at Olympic, I had a ton of supporters and fans it was really awesome to hear their roars any time I hit a pretty good shot."
Hossler has become a celebrity back home in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., where he is going into his junior year of high school.
"I was buying socks at Macy's the other day and some person didn't believe that it was me, so I had to show them my ID," Hossler said. "It's pretty cool, though, because a lot of people know who I am now, being stopped in airports and everything, taking pictures. It's definitely different. You don't really expect it. You wouldn't expect the guy at the Jack in the Box to recognize me, but they kind of do now."
Asked if he was more surprised to be leading the Open or to have thousands hash-tagging his name on their tweets, Hossler said, "I guess the Twitter thing. I wasn't a big tweeter before that, I guess, but now I've gotten into it a little bit, figured out how it works. I had the app on my phone but never used it. As far leading the U.S. Open, that was pretty special in itself, as well."
Hossler, who has orally committed to play golf at the University of Texas, was supposed to be playing in the California State Amateur this week. His plans changed when he received a sponsor's exemption from Woods' foundation last week.
Just as he did at Olympic, Hossler said he is playing to win.
"I respect the games of every player out there," he said. "They're obviously the best players in the world. But I feel like I can go out there and compete. I feel like obviously I'm going to have to play my best golf, there's no doubt about it, but I think I can go out there and if I prepare well, which I feel like I have, gotten some rest, if I go out there and play my game, I think I can stay in contention."
With a victory, Hossler would be the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since Phil Mickelson, who won the Northern Telecom Open in Tucson while in college at Arizona State. Lexi Thompson won as a 16-year-old on the LPGA Tour last year after turning pro at 15.
Woods, who played in his first PGA Tour event at 15 but never contended until he turned pro after his sophomore year at Stanford, said Tuesday what Hossler did in this year's Open "is pretty remarkable. It's consistency and handling that golf course and being as consistent as he was, but on that big a stage. That was impressive to see."
Woods applauds the fact that Hossler plans to attend college. Asked why he wouldn't consider turning pro after high school, Hossler said, "because college is going to be the best time in my life. I'm planning on spending four years there, graduating, and I can't wait to do that. It's going to be a blast. Golf is not going anywhere."
Bill Schellenberg, a close family friend who is Hossler's godfather and will be his caddie again this week as he was at Olympic, said Hossler has always been fairly unflappable.
"He's just a great young man," said Schellenberg, who was at the hospital with the family the day Hossler was born. "Like I've told people, he's an old soul. He's only 17, but he handles himself like an adult. Like an adult, he'll look you in the eye, shake your hand and introduce himself."
Hossler doesn't think he should be intimidated by the surroundings at Congressional, where he missed the cut at last year's Open with rounds of 76 and 77.
"I feel pretty comfortable," he said. "It's still me and my caddie and the golf course, no matter all the media, who's in the field, where the venue is. I've still got to to out there and compete against the golf course and compete against myself. I've got to go out there and make good decisions, make aggressive swings. Obviously, it's tough to say, but it doesn't really matter where you're playing. You've got to go out and do the same thing. You've got to beat the golf course."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun