Local Flavor for U.S. Open

Wyndham Clark, Mark Hubbard and Colin Prater set to add another chapter to Colorado’s rich history in the U.S. Open; Prater 1 of just 2 amateurs — along with a former CSU golfer — to have advanced through both local and final qualifying in 2024

By Gary Baines – 6/10/2024

To say that Colorado has a rich history in the U.S. Open would be kind of like noting that Scottie Scheffler has been playing some pretty good golf of late.

It’s true, but greatly understates the case without further detail.

This week — starting Thursday at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in North Carolina — Denver native Wyndham Clark will defend his title after winning his first major a year ago at Los Angeles Country Club. Denver native and PGA Tour mainstay Mark Hubbard will tee it up in his second U.S. Open. And Colin Prater, a teacher at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, will be one of the rare Colorado amateurs in the 21st century to qualify for the U.S. Open, joining the likes of Derek Tolan (2002), Tom Glissmeyer (2003) and Steve Irwin (2011). 

In fact, according to the USGA, Prater will be one of just 12 players in this week’s 156-man field to have earned his spot by successfully negotiating both stages of qualifying — 18-hole local and 36-hole final. Just two of those 12 are amateurs, with the other being Gunnar Broin, who spent two seasons at Colorado State before transferring to the University of Kansas. 

Colin Prater of Colorado Springs hopes to have a blast this week at Pinehurst. (Mike Ehrmann/USGA)

Prater, a  29-year-old former University of Colorado-Colorado Springs golfer (that’s a college golf program that doesn’t exist anymore, by the way) shared medalist honors with a 67 at Broadlands Golf Course in Broomfield on May 9, then went 68-73 to land the second and last berth at final qualifying in Bend, Ore., on June 3. Prater is a two-time CGA Player of the Year (2020 and ’23) who advanced to the match play round of 64 at last year’s U.S. Amateur. (Also among the two-stage qualifiers for this week’s U.S. Open is former Golden resident Andrew Svoboda, now the PGA head professional at Butler National near Chicago.)

This “means the world!!” Prater said in a text to Colorado Golf Journal on the night of June 3. “I’m so lucky and fortunate to have this opportunity.” 

Hubbard, like Clark a regular on the PGA Tour, joined Prater in advancing through U.S. Open final qualifying. The Colorado Academy graduate, who finished 26th in last month’s PGA Championship after contending through two rounds, lit it up in his qualifier, shooting 64-63 to earn medalist honors in a 36-hole affair in Ontario, Canada.

As for Clark, though he has a victory, two second places and a third so far this year — and is ranked No. 4 in the world — it’s been been a struggle of late. Since the beginning of May, he placed 47th in his title defense at the Wells Fargo Championship and missed cuts at the PGA Championship and the Memorial.

“Really I’m trying to gain some momentum for the rest of the season,” Clark said on Monday at Pinehurst. “I know that maybe sounds like low expectations for the week, but honestly I’d love to just gain some momentum. I’d really like to hit some good shots, have some really good up and downs, make some key putts throughout the week, and play four solid rounds. That’s really what I’d love to do.

“It’s been really puzzling to me because I’ll hit great shots or I’ll play 13 really good holes, but I’m not getting much out of them. I kind of have four or five not-so-good holes. I end up shooting 1 or 2 over. I do that two rounds and you miss the cut. So that’s been really frustrating. My frustration level is definitely higher than it’s been in a long time. So it’s kind of a bummer. But it’s the great thing about golf: There’s always another week. I’ve got to believe that good golf is around the corner. I’m hitting a lot of good shots in practice. I’ve got to be able to take it to the course. I’m hoping it’s this week and it starts a good run of playing good golf the rest of the year.”

Clark, Hubbard and Prater are the latest of many examples of Colorado tending to punch far above its weight when it comes to the U.S. Open. Here are some of the other cases in point:

— In the last 50 years, golfers who graduated from Colorado high schools have won an amazing five U.S. Opens, with Hale Irwin (Boulder High School and CU) prevailing in 1974, ’79 and ’90, Steve Jones (Yuma H.S.) in 1996 and Clark (Valor Christian H.S.) in 2023.

— Colorado has hosted the U.S. Open three times, with Cherry Hills Country Club doing the honors on each occasion: 1938, ’60 and ’78. The 1938 version was the first U.S. Open held in the western U.S., but the 1960 championship was particularly notable. In fact, it was subsequently dubbed “Golf’s Greatest Championship” in a book by Julian Graubart. Arnold Palmer rallied from seven behind going into the final round with a closing 65 to record his only U.S. Open victory. Beyond that, it marked the convergence of three generations of all-time greats of the game: Jack Nicklaus, Palmer and Ben Hogan. Palmer famously drove the green on the 346-yard first hole en route to a birdie and bookended his win with his famous visor toss on the 18th green. Arnie fended off Nicklaus, then a 20-year-old amateur who finished second, and the 47-year-old Hogan, who hit his first 34 greens in regulation on the final day but finished bogey-triple bogey to place ninth. The lead changed hands a dozen times in the final round.

— Irwin’s three U.S. Open victories are bettered by just four players in history, each of whom won the event four times: Nicklaus, Hogan, Bobby Jones and Willie Anderson.

— With his win in a playoff at the 1990 U.S. Open, Irwin became — and remains — the oldest U.S. Open champion, at 45 years and 15 days. Also, Irwin and Julius Boros share the U.S. Open record for longest time between USO wins: 11 years. And only one player in history has competed in more U.S. Opens than Irwin’s 34: Nicklaus (44).

Denver native Mark Hubbard (left) was stellar in U.S. Open final qualifying.

— Orville Moody, who was stationed at Fitzsimons in Aurora during his U.S. Army stint, is the last winner of the U.S. Open to have advanced the same year through both local and final qualifying stages. He accomplished the feat in 1969.

— Jones, who like Irwin played golf at CU, is one of the last three players to win the U.S. Open after going through final qualifying. Jones did so in 1996, with Michael Campbell (2005) and Lucas Glover (2009) later also managing the same.

— Though Andy Zhang (14 years and 6 months in 2012 is now the youngest competitor in U.S. Open history, Tolan and Glissmeyer remain among the youngest, competing in 2002 and ’03 as 16-year-olds, respectively. Both are still Colorado residents, with Tolan being a men’s assistant golf coach at CU after a strong playing career as a Buff.

— Though his dad, three-time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin, had years before competed in his final U.S. Open, Colorado amateur Steve Irwin, then 36, teed it up in the event in 2011 after making it through both stages of qualifying. “The U.S. Open was the pinnacle for me. Now I’m glad he has his opportunity to play in it. He’s earned it,” Hale Irwin told at the time. Like Hale, Steve played his college golf at CU. He was the CGA Player of the Year in 2004. “There’s a lot of emphasis on this tournament in my family,” Steve said after qualifying. “This is rather special for me to be able to go and compete.”

It also should be noted that the champion and the runner-up from last year’s U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills likewise will be in the field for this week’s U.S. Open: Nick Dunlap (now a pro) and Neal Shipley, respectively. Shipley earned low-amateur honors in the 2024 Masters.

For more information on the U.S. Open, CLICK HERE.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for since 2009. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates