Gavilan graduate is first alternate for region and second
alternate overall for next week’s major at Pebble Beach.
SACRAMENTO — So many have been inspired by driving down an empty highway at night.
John Ellis had a lot to think about as he traveled along Interstate 80 on a two-hour drive that began Sunday night in San Francisco and ended Monday morning in Sacramento.
He was tired. Ellis’ flight from Vancouver, British Columbia, was delayed an hour and a half because of fog, putting him into San Francisco International Airport just before midnight. Had it been on time, Ellis still may not have been able to sleep.
He was scheduled to play 36 holes Monday in a sectional qualifier to decide the final four Sacramento entries for next week’s U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, and he had no clubs.
The airline misplaced Ellis’ golf bag, leaving the Live Oak High School graduate to play with an old set his parents drove to him Monday from San Jose. It included some of his brother’s woods.
“It was a long evening,” said Ellis, who was coming off an 11th-place finish on the Canadian Tour’s Times Colonist Open held May 31 in Victoria, British Columbia. “I was exhausted but still pretty excited.
“For me, there’s no bigger thing than to play the U.S. Open with your home crowd watching.”
Ellis, 30, got a taste of that experience while playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last year. The ultimate U.S. Open, though, will have to come another year.
As long and winding as Ellis’ journey was to reach the 87-player sectional qualifier, the aftermath was even more deflating. Ellis strung together two superb rounds at Del Paso Country Club, tying for fourth place at 5-under 137, only to lose out on making the Open in a four-for-one playoff to Pepperdine senior Andrew Putnam.
Ellis was named first alternate from his section and third overall. He moved up to second Wednesday when first alternate Simon Khan of England joined the field.
“It was a heartbreaking way for me to go out,” Ellis said. “I’m not using fatigue as an excuse. I don’t think it affected me; I hung in there and played nicely. That’s just how things went.”
Ellis warmed up with a 1-under-par 70 in the morning, then fired a 67 in the afternoon. Playing the front nine last, he carded back-to-back birdies on the sixth and seventh holes and had a par 4 on No. 9 to finish 4-under for the second round. A double bogey on the eighth, though, proved costly.
“I knew if I finished the last nine strong I’d be in great shape,” Ellis said. “That double bogey was killer, but I knew I still had a chance.”
The tournament’s final berth in the Open came down to Putnam and Bhavik Patel, both amateurs, Ellis and Dillon Dougherty. Ellis and Putnam birdied through the first playoff hole, staged on the par-5 No. 1, while Patel and Dougherty dropped off. The last two golfers then played the par-4 16th in near darkness. Ellis’ run ended with a bogey.
“I was pretty disappointed with that. I really wanted to make the Open,” he said.
In his relatively young career, Ellis has grown accustomed to success and dismay. His Canadian Tour resume includes a whirlwind 2008 season when Ellis punctuated an Order of Merit win with three victories, plus the Rolex Player of the Year award. He also qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open played at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
But the San Jose resident is still battling to earn an elusive PGA Tour card. Ellis advanced to the second stage of the Qualifying Tournament — also known as Q-School — the last four years, and will try to make the third and final round again starting in October.
“It’s a very difficult task,” said Don Leone, PGA director of instruction at Coyote Creek Golf Club and a second cousin of Ellis. “You’re playing against the best, and all it takes is one bad week in the qualifiers, and that’s it. You have one shot. John just needs to get that one lucky week.
“He’s worked so hard for the last few years, and he’s traveled everywhere, played well and made a lot of money. He’ll get there. John will be on tour soon.”
Ellis hopes to keep playing well in the Canadian and Nationwide tours. He climbed as high as third at the Times Colonist Open before fading down the stretch.
Ellis made the cut for Monday’s field by shooting a 3-over-par 75 in a local qualifier held May 10 at Seaside’s Black Horse Golf Club.
“Hopefully, I’ll keep improving,” he said. “It’s not just one thing you have to improve. It’s everything in this sport.”