Chris DeForest tees off at 1:52 pm CT Thursday.
June 14, 2011
Bethesda, Md. - Life has truly been good for Chris DeForest and he can't hide it. The 2011 Illinois graduate will make his professional golf debut on the big stage this week at the U.S. Open.
"I'm obviously overjoyed," DeForest said. "I'm grateful for this amazing opportunity. I have truly been blessed and can't wait to get going."
DeForest won a playoff in his open sectional qualifier on June 6 to be one of the 156 to compete at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. DeForest will tee off at 1:52 CT in Thursday's opening round.
Admittedly, DeForest had a little trouble sleeping those first few nights, but since then it has been down to business for the Cottekill, N.Y., native. He packed up his stuff and headed east to the familiar grounds of Rondout Country Club where he and his four brothers have held friendly battles for years.
Chris will no doubt come into that big stage very prepared. For starters he is the son of a former tour player and club professional. His father, John, will caddie for him this week at Congressional some 27 years after playing in the Open at Winged Foot.
After having success on the junior circuit, Chris DeForest saw his game grow up while at Illinois. He contained raw talent, but learned much about the mental side of the game from head coach Mike Small. From the time he played his first tournament, few if any, could drive it farther.
It was that ability that came into play in his qualifier. In his second playoff hole, a 535-yard par five, he drove it over 400 yards, used a wedge to get within a few feet of the cup, and tapped in for eagle.
In just his second collegiate tournament as a freshman, DeForest set the Illinois record for best round with a 63 at the D.A. Weibring Invitational en route to his first victory. He placed among the top 10 at the Big Ten Championship in all four years and won five tournaments, including three straight as a junior. Only 10-time PGA tour winner Steve Stricker won more competing for Illinois. DeForest leaves Illinois fifth in career stroke average, just .07 shy of Stricker.
If Mel Kiper were handicapping DeForest as a professional, he would say that he definitely has a "tremendous upside." While DeForest demonstrated great ability in his four years, he fought consistency.
This spring, however, that started to change. His coach could see it. That's why Small applauded with encouragement even from a distance on the course to help DeForest stay positive.
The season had many positives for DeForest individually; a tie for fifth at the Big Ten Championship and for 13th at the NCAA Championship, but it came close to being even better.
"I felt I never I had my `A' or `B' game for more than five to nine holes in a row this spring," DeForest said. "I played well for stretches, but tried to bide my time until it all came together. It finally did the last 18 holes of the qualifier."
Just three spots were available in the 58-man field at St Charles (Ill.) Country Club, and DeForest shot 71 in his first round. All he did was birdie four of the first seven holes of round two, including the par five second and the par four fourth, where he nearly drove the green. He made the turn at 32, birdied 16 and 17, three-putted 18 for par 5, then finished it off in the playoff.
DeForest and classmate Scott Langley were the linchpins in a great run of success at Illinois, which included 21 tournament victories, three Big Ten titles and a fifth-place at this year's NCAA Championship. Langley was in the same spot as DeForest just one year ago, playing in his first U.S. Open, and parlayed that into a 16th-place finish.
"Scott told me to enjoy every minute of the experience," DeForest said. "He said to get there early and get used to having a lot of people in the crowd."
DeForest played 15 holes Sunday at Congressional with former Illinois teammate Frank Alafoginis, a D.C. native who is familiar with the course, and his father walking alongside. He then played a practice round there Monday with former Illini and current tour professional D.A. Points, who won at Pebble Beach earlier this year.
"The course is awesome," DeForest said. "It fits my game well with long holes and tough greens. D.A. helped me with targets off the tee and gave me different strategies for playing each hole."
DeForest has tried to put his excitement to the side and just focus on just playing the game he loves.
"I just want to take one shot at a time, keep each hole in front me and play the game the way I know I can," he said. "From there we'll see what happens."
Fans can follow the scoring live at usopen.com. Reports on DeForest's rounds will be available each evening at fightingillini.com.