Of the record 8,468 entries for next week's U.S. Open, I one came from a 13-year-old boy in Kansas and another from a 70-year-old retired club pro on Long Island, proving that age is irrelevant if your dream is to play in the national championship. All that matters is that you're good enough.
On May 13 PGA Tour rules official Vaughn Moise reaffirmed that, at 54, he's still good enough, a discovery that was as satisfying as it was reassuring. That was the day he shot a three-under-par 69 in a local qualifier—a round that eliminates 90% of the entries—at Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine, Texas, to advance to sectional qualifying on June 4. So Moise is 36 holes from showing up at Bethpage Black as a player rather than as an official. "I've got to be honest, that would be pretty special at my age," he says.
Moise, though, knows there's a fine line between a dream and a nightmare. He played in the Open once before, in 1983 at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. That year the USGA made the course nastier than punk rock. He was 35 then, working in the oil business, and way out of his comfort zone.
" Oakmont has this big, 36-hole putting green, and it was really fast," Moise says. "Of course it was fast—it was Oakmont. I took three balls to the green and tossed them down. When I dropped them, they hit each other. One rolled 50 feet away into the rough, and I lost it. Really, I never found it. Another one rolled down and hit Tom Weiskopf's foot while he was putting. I was too embarrassed to get it, so I putted with the one ball for a while and then got out of there."
Later, back on the practice green, Moise glimpsed a ball slowly trundling up to a nearby cup. He watched the ball curl around the hole and stop. "It was about a perfect putt," Moise says. "Then Jack Nicklaus walked up after it, and I heard him tell somebody he thought the greens were slow. Slow! I couldn't keep a 10-footer from going halfway to Cleveland."
Moise's first-round tee time was 3:33 p.m. In his group that day and the next were Rick Smith, then an assistant pro at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, and now a swing coach for numerous Tour pros, and Steve Moreland, a club pro from Tracy, Calif. Says Smith, "We waited around all day and were nervous; then [Moreland] started shanking shots. He was so tight he couldn't release the club. He shanked full shots, iron shots, chips—you name it—one after another, all the way around. Vaughn came up to me and said, 'Rick, I can't look anymore.' About the 13th hole I told Vaughn, 'I feel for the guy, but I just made a double, and now I'm feeling for me.' When I see Vaughn, we still chuckle about it."
Moreland wound up shooting 87-83, Smith 83-82 and Moise 82-78, missing the cut by a mile. Now, 19 years later, Moise may get a second chance. First, though, he must do well in the sectional—one of 12 held across the country—at Shadow Hawk, an exclusive new club in Houston's southwestern suburbs notable for its Rees Jones layout, celebrity member Roger Clemens and proximity to Jester I, a minimum security substance abuse treatment facility. The two low scorers in the 35-man field there will advance to Bethpage.
Moise carried his own bag at Cowboys Golf Club. At Shadow Hawk, Steve Timms, the executive director of the Houston Golf Association and the tournament director of the Shell Houston Open, was to caddie for him. Says Timms, "The thing Vaughn's always had to work on is not getting down on himself. If something bad happens early in a round, you may not hear a word out of him until you're ordering beer in the locker room. That's why we call him Marcel Marceau. He'll go silent on you."
Mark Russell, a fellow rules official, has seen that side of Moise when they have played together. "When he turns into Mr. Silent," Russell says, "I'll ask him, 'Isn't this fun? Isn't it a beautiful day? Aren't you having a great time?' He ignores me."
If there's a bit of a military bent to Moise's stoicism, it's probably because his father, Frank, was a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, and Vaughn and his brother and four sisters grew up on military bases in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. "My father was a lawyer, so he wasn't what you think of as your basic Marine," Moise says. "When I was going to Louisiana State, I asked him what I should major in. He said business. I didn't know what he was talking about. If you didn't put on a uniform, I didn't know what you did."