May 15, 2014 - By Bruce Tippets, Sports EditorFreshman Easton Paxton played hooky from Riverton High School on Wednesday, but nobody minded.
Paxton fired a 6-under par 66 to win a U.S. Open local qualifying round at the Riverton Country Club.
Paxton held off a PGA tour winner in the process. David Ogrin, who won a PGA even in Texas in 1996 and had a top-10 finish in the U.S. Open the following year, finished second to Paxton with a 71, tied with two others.
Ogrin is the golf pro at Three Crowns golf course in Casper. In winning the 1996 Texas Open, he defeated Jay Haas by one stroke, with Tiger Woods two shots back.
Paxton savored the experience.
"It's very special," Paxton said. "The course is in really good shape. I played well, and I had a lot of fun out there."
Paxton won the Class 4-A state title in the fall to help the Riverton Wolverines capture their first-ever team golf championship.
His dominating victory Wednesday qualifies Paxton for a U.S. Open sectional qualifying round early next month in Creswell, Ore.
"This was a big goal," Paxton said. "It's a good tournament with a good atmosphere with a lot of great players in it.
"I'm just going to work hard.I will keep hitting a lot of balls and just work on my game" before the sectional.
Riverton Country Club golf pro Steve Johnson was impressed with how Paxton handled himself Wednesday, particularly on the front nine, where Paxton shot 30.
"He was really rolling," Johnson said.
United States Golf Association officials haven't announced how many U.S. Open spots will be available through sectional qualifying. There are 12 sectionals this year. Last year 57 players qualified for the Open via the sectional route, but each sectional usually has 3-5 spots available. Many will be filled by PGA pros.
This year's U.S. Open is June 12-15 at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina/
"Easton will have to play very well at the sectional tournament," Johnson said. "There will be top level players at the sectional. It will be extremely tough competition. "
Paxton moved to the top of the leader-board on the front nine, making birdies on No. 1, No. 3, No. 5, No. 6, No.7. and No. 9.
"I putted really well," Paxton said. "On the back nine, I just did what I had to do. I hit the greens and two-putted. I made a lot of pars on the back."
The blazing start made Paxton feel comfortable heading into the final nine holes.
"It was good to get off to a good start," Paxton said. "From there on and just knew that I had to cruise. I didn't have to go after the pins."
The birdie on 9 impressed Johnson.
The uphill par-3 played 240 yards.
"To make a two there is just very impressive," Johnson said.
The RHS freshman also recorded a birdie on the tough par 4 12th. His only bogey cam on No. 13.
"I went out there and stayed calm and started to hit good golf shots," Paxton said.
Johnson said Paxton stayed focused in crunch time.
"To bring it into the house at 6-under is super impressive," Johnson said.
Ogrin made it a race in the final 18 holes and had it down to three strokes at one point.
"He got it to where Easton couldn't totally relax," Johnson said.
Former Riverton High School golfers P.J. Thomas and Zach Waxler were in the field on Wednesday.
Thomas ended with a 73. Waxler had a 78.
Thomas plays on the University of Wyoming golf team.
"P.J. played really well on the front," Johnson said. "He struggled a little bit on the back nine."
Waxler is on the golf team at Utah State University.
"Zach just had two bad holes," Johnson said. "Other than he he played a pretty solid round of golf."
Johnson is starting to make final preparations for the annual Saltwater Classic starting Saturday, May, 24, at the Riverton County Club. The three-day tournament finishes on Monday, May, 28.
Golfers play in both pro and amateur divisions.
"We are very excited for the tournament," Johnson said. "I think that we are going to have the strongest pro field that we have ever had. And we will continue to have one of the strongest amateur fields."
Results from U.S. Open local
qualifying round held Wednesday
at the Riverton County Club
Easton Paxton 66
David Ogrin 71
Brent Baylon 71
Josh Grube 71
Dustin Materi 72
Brian Spiva 72
Kamrin Allen 73
Derek Fox 73
Tyler Watts 73
Michael English 73
P.J. Thomas 73
Chris Manning 74
Jordan Castello 74
Thomas White 75
John Murdock 77
Zach Waxler 78
Richard Hinchey 78
Eddie Stewart 79
Drew Petrie 79
Jim Bob Coleman 81
Nathaniel Green 81
Robbie Harding 84
Peter Marak 85
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