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Brigman chases U.S. Open return

SANTA ANA PUEBLO – Albuquerque’s D.J. Brigman is a step closer to his fourth U.S. Open appearance after firing a 4-under 68 on a brutally windy Monday at Twin Warriors Golf Club. Brigman had the day’s best score and grabbed one of three available spots in the local qualifier – one of 111 around the world.

“There’s nothing like it,” Brigman said of playing in the U.S. Open. “Those three I played in are definitely the highlights of my career. That’s the big goal this year, to get there again.”

Brigman now advances to one of 12 sectional qualifiers and the top finishers at each make this year’s 115th U.S. Open, June 18-21 in University Place, Wash.

Santa Fe’s Collin Pratt, 22, who graduated from Desert Academy in 2010 and turned pro two years later, shot 70 to take the second spot while Victor Perez beat Patrick Beyhan on the fifth hole of a sudden-death playoff for the final slot. Both shot 71 in regulation of the 18-hole qualifier.

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Beyhan is the first alternate and Albuquerque’s Steve Saunders is the second alternate after shooting 72. Recent Class 5A state high school champion Ben Albin and former Lobo and current Web.com Tour pro Wil Collins both shot 73.

Albin, who just graduated from Albuquerque Academy, won back-to-back state titles and signed a scholarship to play for Notre Dame in the fall.

Pratt attended New Mexico State for one semester out of college, then transferred to a college in Fulton, Missouri for one semester.

“Then I just felt I was ready to turn pro at that time,” said Pratt, who had three birdies and one bogey on Monday. “… I didn’t hit the ball really bad today, but I made some great putts and hung around.”

Literally, hung around. Pratt, who plays on the European Tour, teed off at 8 a.m. in the day’s first group, then had to wait until the rest of the field finished, which was just before 5 p.m.

The battle for the third spot came down to a Lobo – Victor Perez – and an Aggie – Beyhan. Both just completed their senior seasons.

Beyhan and New Mexico State played in the NCAA regionals over the weekend but Perez – an all-Mountain West Conference player his first three years at New Mexico – didn’t play for the Lobos at their regional.

He came into the season as the team’s No. 2 player, but struggled his senior season. However, he beat all of his UNM teammates on Monday.

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Four other Lobos who did play in regional were also in Monday’s field, but didn’t make a run: seniors Sean Romero (76) and Sam Saunders (81), sophomore Andrej Bevins (77) and freshman Gustavo Morantes (77).

The Lobos were seeded fourth in but finished ninth out of their 13-team regional. Only the top five advanced to the NCAA Championships

UNM’s Nelson Silva Ramos (77) and former Lobo and long-time PGA Tour veteran Kent Jones (76) also came up short on Monday.

For the 38-year-old Brigman, another chance to get to the Open could help him get back to the PGA Tour. He is currently on the Web.com Tour.

He has played in this local qualifier a number of times in recent years, and said the quality of the field has really gotten competitive.

“There are so many good programs in place out here, and the UNM Lobos are obviously one of the best college programs in the country,” Brigman said. “Golf is now a major sport out here; it’s no longer a secondary sport. And that shows by the quality in events like this.”

Brigman, a Texas native, decided to move to Albuquerque after attending UNM and has three kids in local schools; ages 8, 10 and 13. He also helps coach Desert Ridge Middle School’s golf team.

“I take a lot of pride representing Albuquerque,” he said. “I love it here. When I first came from the Dallas-Forth Worth-area, it was a bit of cultural shock. But it’s grown on me, and I cant imagine not having green chile and fresh tortillas.”

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