Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Former New England Patriots RB Danny Woodhead advances past local round in U.S. Open qualifying

Former NFL player Danny Woodhead, who spent a decade in the league with the New York Jets, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens, has taken up a new sport. Spoiler alert: He’s pretty good at this one, too.

Woodhead shot an even-par 71 at Omaha Country Club this week to advance past local qualifying and into sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open in June. He was one of five golfers to advance from the 84-golfer field, bested only by amateur Conner Peck (-1) and pro Corbin Mills (-4). Woodhead’s scorecard was straightforward: four birdies, four bogeys and 10 pars.

This is not Woodhead’s first foray into a USGA event. Last year, he partnered with Michael Wilhelm at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. The duo missed the match play cut by nine after shooting 71-73, but Woodhead’s experience was one for which he was grateful.

“That’s why I think some guys, they struggle with (life after football),” Woodhead told the News Tribune last year. “They don’t really know what to do, you know? I’ve been fortunate to jump right in. And I don’t miss anything about football. I gave everything that I had. I just don’t miss it. I’ve found a passion … I enjoy this as much as I enjoyed playing football. It’s kind of my football now, you know?”

Sectional qualifying for the third major of the year takes place at 11 sites across Japan, Canada and the United States on either May 23 or June 6. Competition will be much stiffer for Woodhead to advance to the event, which will be held at Brookline Country Club in Boston, near his former home with the Patriots. Many pros are already exempt into sectionals without having to go through local qualifying like Woodhead, and he will have to go 36 holes against guys who do this for a living in a big field with limited spots available.

Woodhead was a success in the NFL, and while he’s not quite as good at golf as he was at football — he amassed nearly 5,000 yards rushing and receiving and 32 touchdowns over the course of his career — he’s still better than most amateurs in the United States. That was evident in getting through local qualifying in his home state of Nebraska this week. The number of folks attempting to qualify for the U.S. Open annually often rises into the five digits. However, only 10% of those who enter locals move on to sectionals, and the same number who make it to sectionals move on to the real thing at the end of June.

Golf remains undefeated when it comes to stories like this one. There is no equivalent for going the other way — imagine Brian Harman trying to play semi-pro football — and plenty of athletes from other sports find their competitive salvation in golf long after they’re retired. There will be plenty of good stories that flow out of sectional qualifying in the weeks ahead, but Woodhead’s will certainly be one of the best. If he can somehow pull off the unthinkable and compete for a spot in the U.S. Open in Boston, that would be the sports story of the year.

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