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Jeff Brehaut is unlikely U.S. Open leader as rain plagues Bethpage Black

Jeff Brehaut, at 1 under through 11 holes, has bounced around the minor leagues along with an uneventful PGA Tour career.

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Jeff Brehaut, at 1 under through 11 holes, has bounced around the minor leagues along with an uneventful PGA Tour career.

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — On Jeff Brehaut's best day ever, he spent the morning playing golf in a car wash.

As memories go, that one will last for a while.

To the rest of Long Island, Thursday will go down as another miserable, ugly day. It was windy, it was cold, and the rain poured down so hard the holes on the Bethpage Black Course bubbled over like overfilled coffee cups.

The second hole was a lake, and the 18th fairway was a river. The last time you saw rain like this, Brad Pitt was fly-fishing in it. Any deeper, and Michael Phelps would have been swimming through it.

It was sloppy, it was muddy and it was relentless.

And for Brehaut, 46, a career duffer, it was beautiful.

When he is 75 years old, when he is 85, this will be the day he remembers. When he gathers his grandchildren around, this will be the story he will tell. Again and again.

This was the day he led the U.S. Open.

This was the day all of the bumps and all the bogeys along the way became worth it.

Do you think it's worth griping about a rainy day? Not if you are Brehaut, a player who has spent a lifetime chasing a day as good as this one. For years, he has slapped golf balls across the minor leagues of golf, the minitours and the Nationwide Tour, packing the wife and the kids into a worn SUV and packing them off toward one small tournament or another.

It took 13 trips to Qualifying School before Brehaut even reached the PGA Tour, and even after he made it, he didn't exactly become a household name. Brehaut spent eight years as just-another-guy (a pretty good paying gig in its own right; Brehaut made $3.7 million on the PGA Tour without anyone realizing he was cashing checks.)

When Brehaut lost his card two years ago, the PGA bravely continued. And for Brehaut, the struggle continued. This year, in particular, has been unkind. Even on the Nationwide Tour, Brehaut has missed four cuts in 11 tournaments.

"Not everybody is a college All-American and gets on the tour their first or second crack," Brehaut said. "I'm living proof of that. Some of us have to be the guy that everyone beats up on."

Try to understand, then, how wonderful the view from the top of the leaderboard must feel. Even on a rainy day, when he completed only 11 holes and was 1 under with three others. Even when most of the field has yet to begin. Even when the Open looks as if it could continue until Tuesday.

If nothing else, Brehaut had Thursday.

If you prod him enough, yeah, he'll admit that's kind of neat.

"Oh, there is no doubt," Brehaut said. "It's totally cool. My dad (Gene) was just jumping out of his skin. I had to push him down by saying 'Dad, I'm only through 11 holes.' "

In a cosmic sense, perhaps this is payback for all of the disappointments, for all of the miles, for all of the days in the rough. There was the time back in '94, when he would have qualified for the PGA if he hadn't hit a shot into the water on his last hole. There was '98, when he was close to giving up and finding a job. No matter what the weather is, leading the U.S. Open validates a lot of bad days.

Still, dreams are fleeting things. Perhaps Brehaut's success will be washed away once play resumes.

Then again, maybe this course just kind of likes Brehaut.

Consider Wednesday's practice round. Brehaut was finishing up on No. 9, and the crowd was building because Phil Mickelson's group was approaching.

Brehaut was in the front bunker, some 40 feet from the hole. He hit a nice wedge, and the ball trickled into the hole. The crowd went crazy. So Brehaut dropped another ball into the sand, swung again, and sure enough, the ball went in again. This time, the crowd really went wild.

"It was the funniest moment," he said. "I was jumping up and down like Bob Tway when he held on to beat Greg Norman (1986 PGA Championship). I pumped my fist. Afterward, I told my wife I felt like I had just won the tournament. To have my son (Riley, 14) watch that and hear the crowd was a gift. He's going to have that memory of me when I'm gone."

So who knows? Maybe there are some moments left for Brehaut.

If not, he'll always have Thursday.

"Even if this is as good as it gets," Brehaut said, "it's pretty good."

fast facts

109th U.S. Open

When/where: Today; Bethpage Black Course,
Farmingdale, N.Y.

TV: 10 a.m., ESPN; 3 p.m., Ch. 8; 5 p.m., ESPN

Weather: Cloudy (20 percent chance of rain), high 72

Inside: No one completes more than 11 holes on opening day because of rain. 3C

Jeff Brehaut is unlikely U.S. Open leader as rain plagues Bethpage Black 06/18/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 19, 2009 6:40am]
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