By RICK PETERSON
Former Washburn Rural state champ and Washburn University Division II golfer of the year Andrew Beckler plans to enjoy every minute of next week's United States Open experience in Brookline, Mass.
But Beckler also knows that first and foremost he has a job to do next week after qualifying for his first Open earlier this week.
"It's going to be a great experience and I'm gong to soak it in,'' Beckler said. "My family's coming so it's going to be a great experience for me, but it's still a golf tournament for me so I have a game plan going in for how I'm going to approach practice rounds and things like that and what I'm going to do to prepare for it.
"Then I'm just going to swing away and see what happens. My game's in good shape and I think I can compete out there.''
At this point last year Beckler was trying to cement his future plans after being named the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year following his final season at Washburn.
Beckler officially turned pro Aug. 1 of last year, which in retrospect looks like a great move after Beckler got his breakthrough opportunity in Monday's 36-hole Open qualifier at Rockville, Md.
Beckler tied for third with a 3-under-par 36-hole total of 141 at Woodmont Country Club to earn one of four qualifying berths out of 72 players for the Open, which will be contested next Thursday through Sunday at The Country Club. Beckler put himself in position for an Open berth with a first-round 69 before finishing with a 72.
"I think it was a good decision (to go pro), especially now,'' said Beckler, who has been competing on the All Pro Tour. "This is going to be such a cool chance and I wouldn't have had it if I didn't turn pro.
"I think taking a chance, taking a swing at something in my life was a good decision.''
With Washburn golf coach Ronnie McHenry serving as his caddie, Beckler had his ups and downs in Monday's qualifier, but was able to earn his Open berth by a stroke over two other players.
"I played pretty well the first round and posted 69 and I was like, 'That's probably pretty good, but I probably need a little bit better the second round,' '' Beckler said. "So when I got to hole 15 the second round and Ronnie said, 'We just need like one birdie and we're going to be pretty happy and if we par in we're going to be waiting,' I was a little surprised to hear that.
"But I wasn't surprised how I played. I've been playing pretty well. I honestly didn't hit the ball very well there, but I putted really well. I just kind of played my game. Sometimes the results surprise you just because I thought the scores were going to be a little lower.''
Beckler overcame a double bogey to persevere for his Open spot.
"It's just a mind game at that point,'' Beckler said. "You fall back and you have thoughts in your head, 'I'm out of it now because of one hole,' but if you just hang tough and do the best you can you never know what can happen.''
Fellow Topekan Gary Woodland, the 2019 Open champ, reached out to Beckler shortly after he completed his round, which added to his big day.
"He was one of the first people to text me after I got through so that was cool of him to follow along,'' said Beckler, who plans to play a practice round with Woodland next week. "He's been more than good to me. He's been so kind with his time and his words.''
By Wednesday morning Beckler was back in Topeka to help out his high school coach, Jared Goehring, with the Pure Golf Topeka Summer Junior Camp.
Beckler said he's always happy to do whatever he can to help Goehring and young golfers.
"I love it,'' he said. "Coach has done a bunch for me. He taught me Junior Golf and then was my high school coach. He's just always been there for me and I always looked up to him and looked up to people who helped me in Junior Golf. Matt Ewald and Brian Walker did that for me, so any time I can do that for kids coming up now it's something I'm going to do.''
Goehring will be in Brookline, a suburb of Boston, next week to cheer Beckler on.
"He's one of a kind.'' Goehring said. "From as little as he was when I had him in Junior Golf to where he is now as a professional, the way he approaches his golf game is the same way he approaches life, and that's with a sense of class and professionalism. I think that's just going to take him to even bigger things ahead.''