Last year, more than 30,000 players attempted to qualify for the 13 championships of the U.S. Golf Association. All but a few hundred probably were chasing a dream, and for many it was an impossible dream.
It doesn't stop them from coming back.
Consider this year's U.S. Senior Open, scheduled for Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, June 29-July 2. The USGA received 2,599 entries, up from last year's record 2,397. Of the final 156-man field, 66 are exempt, leaving 90 places for everybody else.
Qualifying is now under way, and 153 players are scheduled to play for five spots tomorrow at Columbia CC in Chevy Chase.
What prompts these 90 amateurs and 63 pros to ante up $100 apiece for a chance to beat the odds?
"With me, it's identification with a national competition, an association with people who are good at what you do, and an ego pursuit," said Bob Bonnell, 69, who has qualified for one Senior Open and four Senior Amateurs.
"Once you qualify [for one of the championships], you think you can go on forever," added the Elkridge Club member, "when realistically you have no chance."
One pro put it a little more succinctly. "If I had known there were that many for so few spots, I wouldn't have tried."
In trying to get a cross-section of players, other amateurs surveyed were Pat O'Malley of Baltimore Country Club, and Jerry Watts of the Naval Academy GC. The professionals included Barry Fuhrman, head pro at Woodholme CC; Bill Sporre, head pro at Crofton CC, and Chuck Ebner, an unattached pro who plays from the CC of Maryland.
O'Malley, 55, has to think this qualifying thing owes him one. He has missed qualifying by one and two shots in the past.
"It's the idea of competition -- how good you are against your peers," he said. "It's a one-day thing. If the ball goes in the hole instead of missing, and you qualify, you qualify. If you don't . . ."
The closest Watts, 63, has been to a Senior Open was three years ago when he caddied for his twin brother at Saucon Valley CC. Another time, on his own, he was an alternate.
"It's one of the really great prestigious tournaments that I'm able to qualify for," Watts said. "Think of playing, and making the cut -- that's a thrill that would last a lifetime.
"I just enjoy playing. I've been working hard on my game, and I'll go and put up a score and we'll see what happens."
For Fuhrman, ineligible for Senior PGA Tour events, it is his only opportunity to try and play at that level. "It's a unique experience, and I love to do it," the 53-year-old said.
He is another with previous USGA experience. Some 30 years ago, he qualified twice for the U.S. Public Links championship.
Sporre, 59, a Senior Open qualifier at Brooklawn in 1987 (he missed the cut), sees this as a matter of pride, and the fact it would be an honor just to qualify. "That certainly is true for the club professional. It's different for the touring pro."
It's a little different for Ebner, too, who has to scramble to play in tournaments where he can. He has played in two Senior Opens, making the cut at Laurel Valley in 1989 as an amateur (he turned pro soon thereafter) and missing at Oakland Hills in 1991. "I took a 9 on the 16th the second day and missed the cut by two," he said.
"I thrive on medal play. It's great competition, but it took me four years to realize I can't play as well as those tour players," Ebner said.
"Now, basically, what you try and do is play smart -- no big mistakes. It gets down to birdies vs. mistakes. You know you'll make some bogeys, so you have to get the birdies where you can."
Bonnell, who works with inner city youths, will have Kinloch Yellott, 13, as a first-time caddy. "We'll both be trying to do the best we can," Bonnell said.
A wonderful local amateur golfer will be remembered tomorrow when the first Baltimore Association for Retarded Citizens tournament will be held at Rocky Point GC in memory of A. Raymond Bevans Jr. . . . A Rocky Point team headed by assistant professional Joe Rahnis won low net Friday in a Middle Atlantic PGA pro-am at Poolesville GC. His amateurs were Steve Kritil (11 handicap); Tom Martin (35 handicap); and Ray Sowards (32 handicap). In a points format, they totaled 241 to 229 for the second-place team. . . . USGA entries for the U.S. Juniors close Wednesday.
This week's schedule
* Today: Baltimore Municipal Golf Corporation Spring tournament, Forest Park GC, 7 a.m.
* Tomorrow: U.S. Senior Open qualifying, Columbia CC, 7:30 a.m.
* Tuesday: Women's Golf Association (Rolling Road GC, Hunt Valley GC), 9 a.m.; MAPGA Senior Tour, Evergreen CC, 10 a.m.
* Wednesday: Salisbury Women's Invitation, Green Hill Y&CC;, 8 a.m.
* Thursday: Salisbury Women's Invitation, Green Hill Y&CC;, 8 a.m.
* Friday: MAPGA Redgate pro-am, Rockville, 8 a.m.