Casey Wittenberg took a red-eye flight from San Francisco to his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., early Monday, then boarded another flight for Wichita on Tuesday.
Aaron Watkins, wife Jessica and baby daughter Ady awoke at 4 a.m. Monday, flew from the West Coast to Kansas City, then rented a car and headed for Crestview Country Club, site of this week’s Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open.
In other words, neither Nationwide Tour golfer had much of an opportunity to savor impressive finishes in last week’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. But the adrenaline rush of being within reach of eventual champion Webb Simpson — and the congratulations from fellow tour competitors — has kept them going.
“It’s been a little crazy,” said Watkins, a former Kansas State golfer who tied for 15th in his first major appearance. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls and text messages. There hasn’t been much relaxation time.”
Wittenberg, a 27-year-old who played collegiately at Oklahoma State, posted the best U.S. Open finish among 13 competitors who will tee it up in the first round Thursday on Crestview’s North course. His 5-over-par 285 total tied for 10th place, four shots behind Simpson.
Wittenberg fired the low score of Saturday’s third round (67). Paired with Tiger Woods on Sunday, Wittenberg overcame two early bogeys to post an even-par 70, while Woods shot a 73.
The finish was Wittenberg’s best in five U.S. Open starts.
“I’ve played some good golf recently,” said Wittenberg, who tied for sixth in the Nationwide Tour’s Mexico Open, which concluded June 10. “Last week was fun. It’s always fun to play well in an Open, and I hope I can use it to play well the rest of the year.”
Five other Nationwide golfers – Alistair Presnell, Steve LeBrun, Nicholas Thompson, Jeff Curl and Darron Stiles -- completed 72 holes at Olympic. Presnell opened and closed the championship with rounds of 70 to tie for 29th.
“I just think it shows you the depth of the field when it comes to the Nationwide Tour,” Wittenberg said. “The U.S. Open is maybe an exception to other championships in that if you’re not playing well there, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re not going to make it through the weekend.
“But to have us out there playing relatively good golf and being able to make it to the weekend, I know that’s exciting for the Nationwide Tour. It’s good advertising and good publicity.”
Watkins, a 2004 K-State graduate, was originally scheduled to play in an Adams Tour event last week at Manhattan’s Colbert Hills. But he advanced through the U.S. Open’s sectional qualifying to earn a berth in the 156-man field at Olympic.
“I love Manhattan and going back there, but this was one time I didn’t mind being somewhere else,” Watkins said.
Watkins became the first K-State golfer to make the cut at a major championship since Jim Colbert in 1984. Watkins’ rounds of 72, 71, 72 and 71 earned him almost $119,000.
None of that applies to Watkins’ earnings on this season’s Nationwide Tour, where he is 65th with $31,013 in 10 events. His best finish this season was a tie for fifth at the BMW Charity Pro-Am last month.
“This tells me I can play with some of the best players in the world,” Watkins said. “Some get good breaks and some get bad breaks in a U.S. Open. But I was able to play through them and play well on the biggest stage in golf.”
Wittenberg, who played on the PGA Tour in 2009, has positioned himself to return there with a solid start this year. He won the Louisiana Open by a tournament-record eight shots in March and is 10th on the tour money list with $132,019.
“The Open was definitely a confidence boost,” Wittenberg said. “But it’s a different week. This golf course is going to play a lot different than Olympic did. You’ve got to get back to making birdies and you’ve got to get back to shooting scores under par.”