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Koch among 6 to survive

The head pro of the host course also makes it through the first stage of U.S. Open qualifying at TPC of Tampa Bay.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
NBC-TV analyst and former PGA Tour pro Gary Koch chips onto the green at TPC of Tampa Bay.
LUTZ -- The nerves were understandable. Val D'Souza stood on the 10th tee of the TPC of Tampa Bay on Wednesday morning, about to embark on U.S. Open qualifying on the course where he is the head professional, knowing everyone expected him to have success.

Never mind he had never tried to qualify for the championship. Never mind that club pros don't get to play nearly as much golf as others think.

Then there was Tampa's Gary Koch, the former PGA Tour player turned NBC-TV golf analyst.

"For me, there's a little less pressure," Koch said. "I know I'm going to the U.S. Open no matter what."

Koch and D'Souza were among six players in a 90-player field who advanced to sectional qualifying for next month's U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.

Marco Dawson, a Buy.com and PGA Tour player from Lakeland, earned medalist honors with 6-under-par 65. Koch shot 67, followed by Palm Beach Garden's Patrick Frasca at 68.

Keith Kulzer of Land O'Lakes, who qualified for the Open two years ago when it was played at Pinehurst, shot 69, as did D'Souza, 28, who has been the head pro at the TPC of Tampa Bay for two years. Gary Sica Jr. of Land O'Lakes gained the final spot in a playoff over Vince Buelk of Lutz and Douglas Ferris of Brooksville. They all shot 72.

Koch, 48, will be working the 101st U.S. Open telecast but went to his boss, executive producer Tommy Roy, to see if Roy would mind having one of his analysts playing in the tournament.

"I think they would welcome the opportunity to be able to talk about me on the air," said Koch, a six-time PGA Tour winner whose previous U.S. Open appearance was in 1995, his 16th Open. "And certainly it would add to my credibility for what I say about the event after I've just come off the course."

The odds of making it into the 156-player U.S. Open field are not good. There are 58 exempt players, including defending champion Tiger Woods, meaning only 98 spots are available to the more than 8,300 who entered across the country. There are 101 local qualifiers, with 13 sectional events to follow.

Koch will attempt to make the U.S. Open field at the June 5 sectional qualifier at Old Memorial in Tampa, his home course.

"That's the only reason I'm playing," he said. "When I saw the sectional was at Old Memorial, I figured I had to at least try. I've probably played more golf at Old Memorial than anybody who is going to play there. So that's got to be a little bit of an advantage. The disadvantage is I'm working (for NBC) the next two weeks rights before it. So there's not going to be a lot of time to play and practice."

Koch played in his first Open in 1973 as a 20-year-old amateur at Oakmont, where he finished 57th. His best finish was a tie for sixth in 1982 at Pebble Beach. He also played the previous Open at Southern Hills in 1977.

"I played awful," he said. "I remember it being very hot and the Bermuda rough being very long. I'm sure it will be all of that this year and the course will be about 300 yards longer."

No matter, D'Souza said.

"I don't think I'd be here unless I had that dream as a kid of holding the trophy," he said. "It's our national championship. As a golfer, even as a golf pro, it's the biggest tournament and the best to win."

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