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The U.S. Open is open

More than half of the tournament field will be filled with qualifiers.

A former major-league pitcher who still believes it is easier to fire fastballs past hitters was among the successful participants. So was an 11-time PGA Tour pro. And then there's the club pro from down the street.

Therein lies the beauty of the U.S. Open.

Golf's national championship, to be played next month at Pebble Beach Golf Links, is open to all comers. Put a tee in the ground, and the lowest scorers advance.

"A lot of people here probably are better players than me, but some days it's your day," said Largo's Paul Coe, head golf professional at Wentworth Golf Club in Palm Harbor. "That's what is great about the U.S. Open. People can fulfill their dreams. I'm pretty realistic. I don't think I have a very good chance. Maybe that makes it easier. I'm not choking out there because I feel like I have nothing to lose."

Coe shot 1-under-par 71 at the Westin-Innisbrook Resort's Island course Wednesday and was one of six players from the 90-man field to advance to sectional qualifying for the 100th U.S. Open.

Apopka's Cliff Kresge earned medalist honors with 3-under-par 69. Ex-pitcher Shane Rawley, former PGA Tour player Adrian Stills of Orlando and Spring Hill's Glenn Gabriel shot 70. Coe joined 11-time PGA Tour winner and 15-time U.S. Open participant Andy Bean at 71.

Bean, 47, the former University of Florida golfer who lives in Lakeland, couldn't remember the last time he played in the U.S. Open. "I just want to play in this one," he said.

For the record, Bean last played in the Open in 1990, when he missed the cut at Medinah Country Club. His best Open finish was in 1978 at Cherry Hills Country Club, where he tied for sixth. Monday, he overcame triple bogey at the 12th hole to squeak into the 36-hole sectional.

"I had a couple of top-10 finishes, but it leaves kind of a sour taste in your mouth," said Bean, who has PGA Tour career earnings of more than $3.4-million. "I'm trying to get back in there and do something. And Pebble is a great golf course."

Rawley could hardly be any more different than Bean. He pitched for Seattle, the New York Yankees, Philadelphia and Minnesota, finishing 111-118 over 12 seasons. In recent years, he has honed his golf game well enough to be a factor on the Celebrity Players Tour.

Three years ago, he advanced through local qualifying to the sectional at Bay Hill. "I let everybody intimidate me," he said.

"The more I play those CPT events it really helps in something like this," said Rawley, 44. "This is so different (than baseball). I think a professional athlete who plays competitive golf will say the same thing. It's such a challenge, such a frustrating game. You can be playing so good, and the next thing you know, you can't hit the ball. There's not one thing you can rely on.

"The key is confidence. I never feel as confident as I did playing baseball. One day to the next is so different."

The U.S. Open will have a field of 156 players, 68 of whom are already exempt. The 88 other players will emerge from the 12 sectional qualifying sites June 5-6.

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