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St. Petersburg amateur golfer Michael Barbosa prepares for U.S. Open

The St. Petersburg native and Stetson law school graduate earned a spot in the year's second major when he shot 68-73—141 and survived a three-man playoff during sectional qualifying at Quail Valley Golf Club in Vero Beach on June 6.

Barbosa, 28, was the only amateur of the three qualifiers from Quail Valley. He tees off at 9:01 a.m. today on the 10th hole with Bud Cauley, making his pro debut, and Adam Long.

"I was laughing with one of my law school friends earlier about how we were stuck in the library this time last year," said Barbosa, who works in financial services when he's not playing golf. "We weren't playing any golf. Then this year, look what happens. Only in America."

Barbosa was an accomplished junior player and attended Bradenton St. Stephens High School and the IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy. He played college golf at Georgia Tech before returning to St. Petersburg to attend Stetson's law school in Gulfport.

He continued to play in amateur tournaments and qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship in 2008. He plays regularly at the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg and Old Memorial in Tampa.

"I wouldn't have teed it up if I didn't think it was possible," Barbosa said of qualifying for the U.S. Open. "I knew I had enough game to do it. But at the same time, it's one thing to have the ability and (another to be) actually doing it. To execute it feels great."

Executing it meant fighting nerves. In the qualifying event, three players were in the playoff for two spots. Sam Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer, made par on the playoff hole, and Barbosa bogeyed it. Andres Echavarria of Colombia double-bogeyed, so Barbosa was in.

Professional Joey Lamielle also qualified.

"I was very nervous," Barbosa said. "You know what you're playing for. It's no secret. I was just elated."

As soon as he made it, Barbosa's mind began to race. He had to make travel arrangements, cancel work for a week, tell his college friends.

"It's something you dream about, but for it to come true is pretty cool," Barbosa said. "I had a lot of e-mails and calls to return. I did a lot of that afterwards and the next day."

Barbosa has realistic expectations. He knows winning the tournament would be one of the biggest Cinderella stories in U.S. Open history. His goals are to play well and enjoy the week.

"It's the U.S. Open, so I definitely want to take in the experience," Barbosa said. "I'll be playing against all the guys that I've watched on TV. There'll be a lot of the legends in the game there. I've been fortunate enough to play with some great players before, so I'll know some players there. At the same time, it's the U.S. Open, so it's not something that I've done before. I'm going to make sure I take it all in and enjoy it. It'll be fun.

"The biggest thing is to stay in the present and as relaxed as possible. I was talking to a friend of mine from Georgia Tech who played in it last year, and he said pretty much every hole is like the 18th hole at a tour event because there's so many people out there. That will take some getting used to. But that's what practice rounds are for."

And if Barbosa makes the cut and plays well on the weekend, will he consider a future in professional golf?

"Absolutely not," he said. "I'll be an amateur forever."

Others of area interest

Four other players in the tournament have ties to the IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton: Cheng-Tsung Pan, Ty Tryon, Christo Greyling and Peter Uihlein. Pan, Tryon and Greyling made the Open through sectional qualifying, and Uihlein is in the field after winning the U.S. Amateur Championship.

Tim Petrovic of Dade City is also in the field. Petrovic has played in 17 PGA Tour events this year, has two top 25 finishes and has earned $254,743. He earned his U.S. Open berth in a 36-hole sectional tournament.

He's not Tiger

Michael Whitehead, a recent graduate of Rice University in Houston, is in the U.S. Open because Tiger Woods is not. Whitehead, left, tried to qualify in a sectional tournament and wound up an alternate. When Woods withdrew because of his injuries, USGA officials called Whitehead and invited him into the field. "Everybody keeps calling me Tiger's replacement," Whitehead said. "I walk around the golf course: 'Tiger's replacement.' I'm not Tiger's replacement, I'm just the guy that got in when Tiger withdrew. Yeah, Woods and Whitehead in the same article. I'm glad he listened to his doctor this time."

Happy birthday, Phil

Today is Phil Mickelson's 41st birthday, and he would like nothing more than a U.S. Open championship. Mickelson has finished second a record five times in the U.S. Open. "I love this tournament," he said this week. "I really believe that I can win it. But just as when I was trying to win my first major (the 2004 Masters), if you focus so much on the result, sometimes you can get in your own way." Mickelson has won four majors, the last being the 2010 Masters. The last time the U.S. Open was played at Congressional Country Club, he tied for 43rd. This year Mickelson has been solid but not great. He won the Houston Open but followed that with a tie for 27th in the Masters. And this year he won't have Tiger Woods around to motivate him. Woods is out with knee and Achilles' problems. "I've always felt that Tiger has helped bring out some of my best golf over the years," Mickelson said. "And even though my record against him may not be the best, it's helped me achieve a higher level that I may not have achieved had he not been pushing me. "So the challenge now without him playing his best or even competing like he's not this week is pushing myself to achieve a level of play that is in there without him forcing me to do so. So in that sense it might be a little bit more difficult."

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Michael Barbosa didn't get much of a chance to see the U.S. Open last year. He was in Gulfport at the Stetson University law library cramming for the bar exam while the world's best golfers gathered at Pebble Beach. This year Barbosa is right there with those golfers at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., for the Open.

.Fast Facts

U.S. Open

When/where: Today-Sunday; Congressional Country Club Blue Course, Bethesda, Md. (par 72, 7,574 yards)

Purse: $7.5 million
($1.350 million for winner)

Defending champion: Graeme McDowell

Field: 156

TV: Today-Friday: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., ESPN; 3-5 p.m. Ch. 8; 5-7 p.m. ESPN. Saturday: 2-8 p.m. Ch. 8. Sunday: 1:30-7:30 p.m. Ch. 8

St. Petersburg amateur golfer Michael Barbosa prepares for U.S. Open 06/15/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2011 5:18pm]
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