Aaron Watkins had every reason to be happy just to have made it to the U.S. Open. The first K-Stater since the legendary Jim Colbert to even make the field, Watkins was certainly in rare air having qualified. A full PGA tour member in 2009, Watkins lost his card the following season. However, he managed to qualify for the U.S. Open, earning the right to play alongside the biggest names in golf: Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, and others. But he wasn’t satisfied.
On Day 1, Watkins struggled through the front 9 on Round 1. He went out in 37, sitting at +3 heading to the back 9. He faced a daunting challenge coming in, a challenge that broke bigger-name backs such as Rory McIlroy, who finished Day 1 with a 77 (+7).
Watkins, though, was not broken by the back 9 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Instead, he attacked the back 9, subjugating it by shooting a 1-under 35, to finish the round at 72 (+2), well in the mix to not only make the cut on Friday, but actually contend.
Heading into Day 2, questions remained for Watkins. Having never been in this position at a major tournament, it wasn’t clear how he would respond.
But respond he did.
Watkins charged through the front 9 holes with a 33 (-1), bringing him to +1, and placing him on the cusp of the top 10. While the back 9 journey posed more difficulty for Watkins, he was able to scramble enough to finish with a 38 (+2), leaving him at 143 (+3) for the first two rounds. This score was good enough to put Watkins in a tie for 12th place, and virtually guarantee Watkins a spot in the weekend’s final two rounds.
Heading into the weekend, Watkins has achieved far more than anyone outside of his own camp could have expected of him. Never having finished above 7th in a PGA tour event (2009 Zurich Open at New Orleans), whatever comes next in Watkins first U.S. Open appearance will be a bonus.
Speaking of his first time around the PGA tour in 2009, Watkins said this:
I remember walking across a bridge with Tiger (Woods). It was a feeling like I had never felt before. You can’t put into words how intimidating it is to be side-by-side with the best player in the world … a guy who was unbeatable. It may not sound like that big of a deal, but it’s a feeling that I will never forget. With the crowd, the cameras and the media, there are just so many factors involved when you play with someone like Phil or like a Tiger. Those are things you can’t prepare for. Those are things you just have to experience.
Watkins has already established himself as a solid player on the Nationwide Tour, having pocketed $130,950 during the 2011 season. This year, he has earned just over $30,000 on the Nationwide Tour, good for 65th place on the money list. If Watkins can develop more consistency in his game, he could very well find himself making the jump from his current spot on the Nationwide Tour to a full-time place on the PGA tour.