MTSU's Patterson mingles with pros for a week as U.S. Open participant

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 11:58pm

Brett Patterson already has played nine holes with Retief Goosen and signed his first autographs.

The first round of the U.S. Open is still a day away.

But Patterson, a rising sophomore at Middle Tennessee State, is soaking in the experience of playing as an amateur in the 111th U.S. Open this weekend at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

“It is pretty exciting stuff. The whole week has been kind of surreal and I’m just taking it all in,” Patterson said. “I’ve gotten past seeing all the stars and am just starting to treat this like another golf tournament. ... This is another step toward reaching that goal [of playing professional golf]. It lets me know that I can play at this level because I really feel like I can play with these guys.”

The truth is, it most likely will be unlike any golf tournament the 19-year-old has ever played. He’ll tee of at 1:41 p.m. on Thursday and will be partnered with professionals Bennett Blakeman and Brian Locke — both are just 24 years old.

Patterson, a native of McMinnville, Tenn., just wrapped up a strong freshman season at MTSU. He ranked seventh in the Sun Belt Conference with a 72.65 stroke average.

He qualified for the U.S. Open when he advanced first out of a local qualifier in Cincinnati and then two weeks go a sectional qualifier outside of Atlanta. His second round of 62 — a course record — in the sectional propelled him to a 12-under finish as he shared medalist honors. Only the top three out of 47 golfers advanced to the U.S. Open.

“To be honest, it was one of those things I tried not to really focus on the outcome at all,” Patterson said. “I just tried to prepare as best as I could at the qualifier. All the things I worked on just came together at the right time. I was just focused on each shot, trying to hit each shot as best as I possibly could. Luckily, I was able to shoot a 62 in the final round and thank God I’m here. It is definitely awesome.”

Patterson arrived in Bethesda on Sunday and in three days, has played 46 holes in three different practice rounds. During that stretch he has signed numerous autographs — a first for him.

“I am loving every minute of it,” he said. “I have been in those kids’ situations before. Whenever I have been to a pro golf event, I wanted everybody’s autograph. I tried to return the favor that I wanted the pros to return to me when I ever I was that age.”

On Tuesday, he planned to play 18 by himself but Goosen walked up to the 10th tee and asked to join. Patterson didn’t turn away the South African, who has played in 13 U.S. Opens and won two (2001 and 2004).

The two engaged in friendly conversation, sticking with small talk and complimenting each other’s shots.

“He is a really nice guy. I respect him because he keeps to himself and the practice round is all business,” Patterson said. “Looking back at it now, I think it was good because Retief kind of brought in a larger crowd to our practice round so I could kind of get used to that.”

Along with his round with Goosen, the highlights for Patterson include meeting PGA Tour winners Steve Stricker and former Vanderbilt star and Nashville native Brandt Snedeker.

“Every guy here can play, [and] being a good player can give some people an ego,” Patterson said. “A college kid like me in the locker room, I kind of get stares. But there has been a couple of guys who have come up to me and introduced themselves, asked how [I am] doing and how the experience went.

“… Things like that, those kind of things stick out to guys like me playing in this for the first time.”

As for goals at his first major championship, Patterson wants to make the cut and still be playing when Saturday rolls around.

But ultimately, he doesn’t want the magnitude of the event to rattle him to the point where he isn’t playing up to his full potential.

“In my mind, the hard goal and the big goal is to stay in my own world,” Patterson said. “For a split second, whenever I hit that shot, the crowd is not there. It is just another golf tournament and golf shot. ... If I make the cut, awesome. If I come in the top 10, awesome. If I win, awesome. It is one of those things I want to look back and say, ‘I hit every golf shot totally focused and I hit it the best I could.'”