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Three locals play in U.S. Open qualifier in Riverton

May 15, 2012 - By Bruce Tippets, Sports Editor

Riverton golfers Easton Paxton, P.J. Thomas and Collin Hopkins compete Wednesday in a U.S. Open local qualifying round at the Riverton Country Club.

Golfers must produce a handicap of 1.4 or lower in order to compete in the field.

Sixteen golfers are in the 18-hole tournament field. The tournament starts at 8 a.m. The winner of the 18-hole tournament qualifies for a U.S. Open sectional round elsewhere.

The winner of the sectional round earns a ticket to the U.S. Open.

Paxton, 13, a Riverton Middle School seventh-grader will be the youngest golfer in the field.

"It would be really neat for someone local to win it," Riverton Country Club golf pro Steve Johnson said. "It would be incredibly exciting for a 13-year-old to advance to sectionals. That is something that would be national news."

Paxton has played in a number of different tournaments across the United States the last few years.

"Easton is playing well," Johnson said. "He has been working on a couple of swing changes. It's starting to click for him."

Thomas spent last semester as a full-time student at the University of Wyoming.

Thomas finished with a 72 in 2011 in the same tournament.

"P.J. is still playing a lot of golf," Johnson said. "P.J. always plays this golf course really well. He is super on his home course."

Hopkins is the veteran of the Riverton group. Hopkins scored a 73 a year ago.

"Collin loves the idea of the U.S. Open," Johnson said. "Collin played well last year."

His son, Nick, won the Open qualifier a couple of years ago.

A Utah golfer, Clay Ogden, won the local qualifying tournament last year with a four-under 68. The par is 72 at the Riverton Country Club.

"If the weather is really good, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 66," Johnson said. "I would lean more to a 68 qualifying."

The Riverton Country Club has hosted the local qualifying round for the past 15 years.

"It's really an honor to host it," Johnson said. "The best thing that could be said it's a real testament to our golf course, our members and our golf superintendent (Chris Thomas)."

Johnson said the golfers feel the pressure of playing in the must-win tournament.

"When you have to have the lowest score it's a different from trying to put together a four-day tournament," Johnson said. "Here is just all or nothing. You might see a little more risk taking for birdies. It's fun golf to watch."

The 112 U.S. Open is June 14-17 at Olympic Club in San Francisco. Rory McIlroy is the defending U.S. Open champion.

Golfers in the field for the local U.S. Open qualifying round on Wednesday

Brian Avery, Eddie Stewart, Thayne Balling, Brian Spiva, Tyler Watts, Clinton Boutelle, Bernie Blan, Easton Paxton, P.J. Thomas, Collin Hopkins, Nathan Green, Chris Manning, Nate Wilson, Michael May, Dustin Materi.

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