By Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001
TAMPA -- His full-time job required him to be in Tulsa, Okla., for next week's U.S. Open anyway, so Gary Koch figured he might as well try to qualify for the tournament he would be covering. Especially since the sectional qualifier was at his home course.
Koch, 48, a former PGA Tour pro who is a member at Old Memorial Golf Club, birdied the fourth playoff hole on Wednesday to earn one of four spots in next week's 101st U.S. Open at Southern Hills. The qualifying field consisted of 66 players.
Jason Dufner and Jeff Barlow tied for medalist honors, each shooting 4-under-par 140 in the rain-delayed sectional qualifier.
Koch, who has six PGA Tour titles, tied PGA Tour player Donnie Hammond and Steve Pleis, meaning there would be a three-way playoff for the final two spots.
Koch, who played the last of his 16 U.S. Opens in 1995, birdied the fourth extra hole. Pleis had a chance to grab the final spot but missed a 2-foot putt on the sixth extra hole. Hammond then birdied the seventh extra hole with a 12-footer to advance.
Dufner is a former U.S. Amateur Public Links runner-up who played college golf at Auburn. He forfeited his $1,000 entry fee in this week's Golden Bear Tour event in West Palm Beach, which began Wednesday, in order to qualify for the U.S. Open. Barlow is a former University of Florida golfer.
Koch has set himself up for a busy week. When not practicing and competing at Southern Hills, he intends to be in one of the NBC towers as an analyst, with the blessings of his boss, executive producer Tommy Roy.
"If I play early, that afternoon I'll definitely spend the afternoon on my tower," Koch said. "It was going to be a long week anyway with us being on the air for 30 hours in four days."