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Open door bangs shut on Crenshaw

The U.S. Open will be without one of its biggest fans next week. Our country's oldest professional championship, with all of its history, will go on without a player who loves the sentimental part of the game as much as he does playing it. Ben Crenshaw failed to qualify for the U.S. Open.

The tournament will seem strange without him. Although he has never won it, the U.S. Open might be his favorite other than the Masters, which he won in 1984.

Crenshaw, 39, is a noted lover of golf history. He collects artifacts and clubs and has a huge library of golf books in his home in Austin, Texas. He is missing the U.S. Open for the first time since 1974.

"Obviously, it's a big disappointment," said Crenshaw, who is playing this week in the Buick Classic.

There are several ways a player can avoid qualifying _ including finishing in the top 30 on the previous year's money list _ but Crenshaw didn't meet any of the criteria. So he, along with 166 other players, went through sectional qualifying in Rockville, Md., on Monday.

And Crenshaw played well. For 36 holes, he was 4 under par. Unfortunately for him, he needed to be 5-under just to get in a 16-way playoff for the last of 44 spots.

"I played some good golf but the scoring was very easy," Crenshaw said. "I just didn't make enough putts."

Crenshaw's plight shows just how difficult it can be to make the U.S. Open. Several tour pros were involved in qualifying at sites around the country and didn't make it, including Andy Bean, Kenny Knox and John Mahaffey.

Mark McCumber made it, but had to qualify despite tying for second at the U.S. Open just two years ago. "You come within a putt of winning and two years later you have to qualify," McCumber said. "I love it. That's why its called the U.S. Open, not U.S. closed."

Crenshaw understands. "I'm just going to be watching on TV," he said. "I'm going to be an armchair quarterback. I'll be looking for rules violations."

Hot Chi Chi: He's been having an excellent year on the Senior PGA Tour, but Chi Chi Rodriguez was hot for another reason after the second round of the NYNEX Commemorative tournament on Saturday. Paired with Bruce Crampton and Walt Zembriski, Rodriguez became enraged at Crampton for his slow play.

Crampton has long been known as a deliberate player. Rodriguez is one of the fastest. The combination did not mix.

"I wouldn't play with you again if they paid me $100,000," Rodriguez reportedly said to Crampton after the round. Rodriguez also threw objects around in the locker room after shooting a 2-over-par 72 to fall out of contention.

"How can you concentrate when a guy is taking three and four minutes for every shot," said Rodriguez, the senior PGA leader this year with four victories and $400,333. "I went to the officials but nothing ever happens.

"They keep saying they're going to penalize, but they never do. Now I'm out of it.

"Sure, I'm entitled to shoot a bad round once in a while, but I don't want somebody to cause it to happen. I want to do it on my own. I'll get over it, but I'm far from happy."

Perhaps coincidentally, Crampton withdrew before Sunday's round, complaining of back pain.

Open dreams: Seve Ballesteros has long coveted the U.S. Open trophy, and after winning the Masters and British Open early in his career, it was assumed by most that the Spaniard would eventually win our country's national championship. The way he has played the past two years, however, made many wonder whether he'd ever win again.

But suddenly, Ballesteros is playing well. He has won two tournaments in a row in Europe, the British PGA and the British Masters, and now leads the European money list.

And he's looking forward to next week's U.S. Open.

"The U.S. Open is a tough tournament," said Ballesteros, 34, the winner of five major championships. "The last European winner was Tony Jacklin (1970) and it's been a lot of years since then. It's about time a European player won it again."

Jacklin won the U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club _ site of this year's Open.

Notes: The local portion of the BMW Golf Cup International is at Avila Golf & Country Club in Tampa. The event is part of an international amateur program. The champions of each club event will have the chance to advance to the U.S. finals in Scottsdale, Ariz., in September. Gary Koch Golf in Tampa is sponsoring a golf tournament and tour of Scotland's Ayrshire Coast Aug. 24-31. The event is limited to 24 two-man amateur teams and will be played on famous courses Prestwick, Royal Troon and Turnberry. The tour cost is $1,195 per person, plus airfare, and includes lodging, greens fees for up to eight rounds of golf, gift packages, prizes and clinics by Koch. For more information, call 960-2515. The Outback Steakhouse West Central Chapter PGA Championship will be played July 1-2 at Avila Golf & Country Club in Tampa. Class A club pros from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco and Citrus counties will compete for $15,000 in prize money.

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