When Brandon McIver of Billings tees off at the 114th U.S. Open early Thursday morning, he will be one of just three Yellowstone County golfers to do so since the early 1980s.
The 20-year-old McIver, who is the reigning Montana State Amateur champion and will be a junior at the University of Oregon in the fall, is scheduled to begin on the No. 10 hole at the historic Pinehurst No. 2 course in North Carolina at 6:46 a.m. (Mountain time).
He is the first county golfer to get this far since Laurel Golf Club pro Tom Anderson also advanced to the U.S. Open in 1998. Before that, Pryor Creek’s Kevin Prentice made the Open field in 1984.
McIver, an alternate, was notified by phone last Sunday by the United States Golf Association that he would be included with many of the world’s best golfers in the 156-player field.
Earlier in the week he had just missed out on an automatic berth during a 36-hole sectional tournament at Emerald Valley Golf Course in Oregon.
“It’s been incredible,” McIver said Tuesday, now fully immersed in the Open atmosphere after playing his second practice round. “It’s hard to describe. It’s something you kind of dream about as a golfer.
“For me, having the good fortune of being able to do this is something I will cherish for a long time. I relish the opportunity to compete with these world-class players on one of the best courses in the world.”
During Monday’s practice round, McIver played in a threesome with 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk. On Tuesday, he played alongside PGA Tour veterans Brandt Snedeker and Bill Haas.
In addition to sharing a little insight with the pros on the “best and smartest way” to tackle the difficult Pinehurst layout, McIver said, “I hit it well, kept it in play and got it around really well.
“It’s firm and dry and it’s only going to get firmer and drier,” he said of the course. “The steep slopes around the greens are extremely difficult. Like nothing I’ve ever seen. TV won’t do it justice.”
With Jasi Acharya, 30, of Columbus qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open, which will also be played at Pinehurst No. 2 on June 19-22, Montana has a representative in both Opens for the first time since 1998.
Leslie Spalding of Billings played in 1998 at Blackwolf Run Golf Course in Kohler, Wis., while Anderson competed at The Olympic Club in San Francisco that same year.
The 6-foot-2 McIver is the first Oregon golfer under head coach Casey Martin to play in the U.S. Open and the first Duck — current or former — to do so since Ben Crane did it in 2012.
“We’re just thrilled and excited for Brandon,” Martin told GoDucks.com. “It’s an incredible opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Regardless of how he does, he’ll become a better golfer having competed in the U.S. Open.”
McIver, who was the third alternate overall for the Open, believed he had a good chance of making the field so he actually flew out to North Carolina with Oregon first-year assistant coach Van Williams, a North Carolina native, in advance of Sunday’s phone call.
“Obviously the fact I got in was just really exciting,” he said. “Now that I’m here, it’s time to strap it on and be competitive and do my best.”
A three-time state prep champion for Billings West, McIver will have best friend and former high school teammate, Jake Hedge of Billings, serving as his caddie. Hedge is a golfer at Montana State Billings.
While McIver said Hedge’s presence and golf knowledge will be “really comforting,” he’ll also be counted on to “just keep the mood light.
“It’s a big stage, but I have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” McIver said. “I want to play as well as I can, be fully committed on every shot and go for it.”
McIver, who will also be cheered on by his father, Bob, mother, Terri, and older sister, Christie, will be paired with Maverick McNealy of Stanford and Smylie Kaufman of LSU during the first round.
“The support that I’ve already received (from people in Montana and Oregon) has been incredible,” McIver said. “It means a lot to me. It’s been pretty special.”
The U.S. Open field will be cut to the lowest 60 scores, plus ties, after 36 holes. The tournament runs Thursday through Sunday and will be televised nationally.
“Obviously making the cut would be amazing,” McIver said. “But it’s such a tough golf course that you don’t want to catch yourself looking too far ahead. It has plenty of teeth to bite.”
McIver competed in his first USGA event, the U.S. Amateur Championship, last summer in Brookline, Mass.
He recently participated in the NCAA Championships with the Oregon team in Kansas.