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Bighaus: Coleman finds success on Montana links
BOB ZELLAR/Gazette staff Jim Bob Coleman, a recent pro addition to The Briarwood, is preparing for a shot at qualifying for the U.S. Open following a blazing performance at Anaconda's Old Works.

Bill Bighaus

Turns out this Jim Bob Coleman, who is one step away from qualifying for golf's U.S. Open, isn't a stranger to Billings after all.

The 29-year-old Coleman, who started working last month as an assistant pro at The Briarwood, won the recent U.S. Open local qualifier at Old Works Golf Course in Anaconda by shooting a 5-under-par 67.

"(Head pro) Bob (Eames) gave me the opportunity to take this job and work on my game," Coleman said this week. "He's been great about letting me play in some tournaments."

He hopes the 103rd U.S. Open is one of them. It's set for June 12-15 at Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois.

But Coleman isn't in the 156-player field quite yet.

He will likely need a first- or second-place finish June 2 during a one-day, 36-hole sectional tournament at Columbine Country Club in Littleton, Colo.

And just who is this Coleman?

After dominating the competition in Anaconda by five strokes, the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder was identified in a press release as being from Billings. His name, however, didn't immediately ring any bells.

It does now.

Coleman, a native of Priest River, Idaho, is a former men's and women's golf coach at Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho. He is a past Coach of the Year in the Frontier Conference, and his Warrior men placed sixth in their first visit to the national NAIA tournament in Florida in 2002.

It was while he was at L-C State that Coleman began to develop his ties to the Magic City.

He was playing with fellow coaches during a collegiate tournament in Billings in October 2001, when he tied the course record at Peter Yegen Golf Club by shooting a remarkable 9-under 62.

"I think I've held seven course records," he said when asked about that stunning score. "I've shot 62 probably six times. Some of them were on more difficult golf courses than Yegen."

His local connections, however, extend beyond that dazzling scorecard.

Coleman and Kelly Hancock, a former golfer at Billings West and Rocky Mountain College, plan to be married in Billings later this summer. They met through college golf.

Hancock, who played on three of Rocky's national tournament teams, also caddied for Coleman in Anaconda.

"She kept me pretty relaxed because she was way more nervous than I was — with her fingers crossed and everything else," Coleman said with a smile. "I kind of got a laugh out of her. That was pretty helpful in calming me down."

The two will pair up again in Littleton. After that, they're still mapping their itinerary for the future.

"My main thing I told Bob when I took the job is I want to work on my game and go to (PGA Tour) Q-school in October," said Coleman. "That's as far as I've looked ahead."

In looking back, Coleman's recent round at Old Works included an eagle on No. 3 and birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 13. He missed just one green in regulation.

"I played pretty solid most of the day," he said. "I hit the ball well enough on the front nine to be about eight under. I hit it close to every hole, I just missed quite a few putts."

It was putting that soured Coleman's experience on the Hooters and Gateway mini-tours last year.

"I had a bad year putting, that's for sure," he said. "My big thing last year is I wanted to go out and play and find out if I'm capable of playing at that level. I didn't play well and that's why I took the rest of the year off. I just wanted to regroup and hopefully find my game again."

He did at the 7,211-yard Old Works course.

"Taking that long break has made me realize I still want to play," he said.

Coleman was a state high school champion in Priest River. He turned professional at age 21 after playing a year at the University of Idaho. Now he is focusing on taking that last step to the U.S. Open. Coleman is one of 750 golfers remaining of the 7,000 who went through local qualifying.

"My expectations are whatever happens, happens," he said. "But I definitely have that desire. I want to make it really bad."

He has tried Monday qualifying at two PGA tournaments in the past, but failed despite shooting a 68 and 69. He also went to PGA Q-school two years ago, but didn't make it past the first stage.

This will be Coleman's second trip to U.S. Open sectional play — he also won a qualifier at Anaconda in 2000. "Last time at sectionals (in Portland) I played horribly," he said.

In addition to coaching and playing on mini-tours over the past eight years, Coleman has served a couple of stints as an assistant pro at the Clarkston (Wash.) Country Club.

Out on the course, he can be accurate off the tee, reliable with his wedge and — as he puts it — streaky when it comes to putting.

"When my putter gets hot I can usually shoot really low," Coleman said. "But when it's not, that's when I struggle."

He said he hasn't picked up a club since prevailing at Old Works on May 15. That will change this weekend when he plays in the three-day Saltwater Classic in Riverton, Wyo.

Then it's on to Littleton

"I'm excited to play," he said. "I'd love to get in the Open. I don't know what else to say."

A Billings-area golfer hasn't qualified for the U.S. Open since Laurel Golf Club pro Tom Anderson advanced in 1998. Before that, it was Pryor Creek's Kevin Prentice in 1984.

Coleman would fit nicely into that group.

He is, after all, no stranger to success.

Or to Billings.

(Bill Bighaus can be reached at 657-1394 or