As injuries started piling up for John Eckert’s fantasy football team last fall, he knew what finishing last would mean for him: The owner of the last-place team in the Shiva league would have to play in a local qualifier for the U.S. Open.
On Monday, Eckert paid off his debt at Oakwood Country Club in Kansas City, Missouri.
As you can imagine, it went about as well as one would expect.
Eckert, 26, from Overland Park, Kansas, finished in last place, again, after carding a 40-over 112, which was 40 strokes behind winners Ryan Argotsinger and Andrew Beckler.
After arriving late for his tee time on the 10th because he went to the wrong hole, Eckert was 5 over after two holes. He recovered to par the par-4 12th hole, but that was his lone bright spot while scoring 22-over 58 on the back nine.
Eckert said he knew where the 10th hole was located but was busy getting in extra work at the range.
“As if it would matter,” he said.
Eckert said he topped his first tee shot with a 3-wood and his ball landed about 20 yards away behind a tree in the rough.
“At that moment, I knew it was going to be a struggle,” he said.
After the first two holes, Eckert’s caddie informed his two playing partners why he was out there. He said they didn’t seem to have a problem as long as he kept of pace of play and respected the course.
Eckert opened the front nine with double, double and triple bogeys before making a 10 on the par-4 fourth. He recovered with pars on Nos. 5, 7 and 9 to card an 18-over 54 on the front.
“I’m pretty happy with the four pars, for sure,” Eckert told ESPN on Tuesday, via text message. “The walking got to me. I’m more of a cart guy myself.”
Eckert said he plays about once a month when the weather is nice. He said he typically scores in the low 90s “but had some momentum going into the qualifier, so the spirits were high.”
“The nerves started to calm down and I settled into the round,” Eckert said. “I managed to par three of my last five holes. After those holes, my confidence skyrocketed. If this were a two-round qualifier, the field may have been in trouble.”
Todd Stice, director of rules and competitions for Central Links Golf in the Kansas City area, which staged the U.S. Open qualifier, said Eckert was able to enter the tournament because he had designated himself as a professional player on his registration form. Only amateurs are subject to USGA rules that require a 1.4 handicap or lower to play in the U.S. Open qualifiers.
Eckert should be expecting a letter from the USGA soon, which will inform him that he can no longer compete in its events because of his high score. He also has lost his amateur status by designating himself as a pro.
“I can’t imagine his amateur status is of concern to him,” Stice said.