PINEHURST, N.C. – It’s been a long time since a golfer walked off the course at a major championship and uttered the words “ice fishing.”
It’s been a long time since average Minnesota golfers, a hardy and passionate demographic, could say they have walked the same fairways as a couple of guys playing in the U.S. Open.
Clayton Rask and Donald Constable, two Minnesota natives and former Gophers, experienced career highlights by qualifying for, and playing in, the Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
They did even more for Minnesota golfers. They allowed us to see the championship through the eyes of people who have played where we’ve played. They allowed us to relate to the greatest test in the game.
We were blessed with the rise of Tom Lehman, a guy who worked in the ski-rental shop at the U and survived lean years on far-flung minor tours before becoming the top-ranked player in the world.
We were blessed with the rise of Tim “Lumpy” Herron, who won tournaments and made some pretty funny commercials.
Might Rask and Constable follow in their Footjoy prints?
“That’s absolutely what I want to do,” Rask said. “I grew up watching Tom and Lumpy, especially at the Dayton’s Challenge. If I could be the next representative, or have both me and Donny out there, that would be awesome.
“It’ a lot of fun when you get texts and phone calls from people saying, ‘Hey, we’re behind you, go represent.’ That’s great. It’s awesome knowing the whole state is behind me. I wish I could have done a little better for them. But it was a great experience.”
Rask made the cut and finished tied for 63rd. Constable missed the cut.
Now that the general public knows their names, they will be challenged to make it back to a big stage.
Constable is 25, and has made it through PGA Tour qualifying school. Rask is 29 and playing on the PGA Tour Canada.
Unlike team-sport athletes, they can’t make it as role players. They can’t fill a niche. They will have to earn everything they achieve shot-by-shot, under the pressure of knowing they are playing for their livelihoods as well as their dreams.
“At this stage, it’s a little different than a typical tour event,” Constable said. “It’s the Open. I showed myself I can hit the golf shots and I can play around a golf course like this, when it’s set up as the hardest test in golf.
“Obviously, it’s a different atmosphere. People don’t understand, but it’s different than playing the John Deere or the Wyndham. It’s a big deal. So the crowds are bigger, the atmosphere is bigger, and having it be my first Open put me out of my comfort zone. It’s a learning experience.”
Constable said his swing became “too quick” on Thursday, leading to an 81 that took him out of contention to make the cut. Rask’s swing held up remarkably well.
For the week, he ranked tied for eighth in greens hit in regulation (66.7 percent), tied for fifth in fairways hit (78.57) and fourth in average driving distance (322.5 yards). “I just needed to make more putts,” he said.
Constable and Rask both live in Minnesota, and it was Rask who mentioned hanging around this winter and ice fishing.
While many golfers winter in warmer climes, Rask plans to stay in Minnesota, to work at the Minnesota Golf Academy and be near his family and friends. He plays out of Riverwood National in Monticello, where he works with pro Steve Fessler and his caddie, Eric Chiles. He is also getting married on Oct. 24 to Gina Bishop.
“I love working at the Minnesota Golf Academy,” he said. “That’s where I honed everything last winter. They got me in there and got my swing figured out, and my clubs figured out. The academy has been great. I can go there eight hours a day and get my work in, and do everything else I need to do.
“Plus, I’ve got to get my ice fishing in.”