By Pat Dooley
Sun sports columnist
When he qualified for the United States Open golf tournament in 2009, Tyson Alexander figured it was the norm for him.
He was still an amateur with a bright future. The former Gator golfer and current Gainesville resident instead waited eight long years until a return to our national championship.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I might have taken it for granted. I never believed it would be 2017 before I would play in it. I’ll never take it for granted again.”
Alexander, the son of former UF golf coach Buddy Alexander, made the field Monday in dramatic fashion. Playing at Jupiter Hills, he had to get up and down on the 18th hole to make a playoff and then birdied the first playoff hole from 15 feet to make it.
As a result, the Alexanders are in double figures.
In what, you ask?
U.S. Open appearances.
This requires a little history lesson.
Skip Alexander, Tyson’s grandfather, was quite the golfer around the time the 1940s turned into the 1950s. He was a three-time Tour winner until a plane in which he was traveling crashed in Evansville, Ind. He was the sole survivor and had to have skin grafts on his valuable hands. His ankle and his game were never the same.
Skip Alexander, who passed away in 1998, played in six U.S. Opens. By the time Buddy came along, Skip had settled in at Lakewood Country Club in St. Petersburg as a club pro.
“The crash effectively ended his professional career,” Buddy said. “He played in a couple of more. And he won a match in the 1951 Ryder Cup. That team’s captain — Sam Snead — insisted Alexander be allowed to play despite his physical problems because he had qualified.
Alexander beat British Open champ John Panton 8 & 7. It was the largest win at the time in the history of the event.
So that was Skip’s story. Buddy qualified for the tournament — as well as the Masters — by winning the 1986 U.S. Amateur. He was paired at the Olympic Club with Greg Norman and Robert Floyd, just missing the cut by two shots.
Seven years later, he qualified for another U.S. Open, this one at Oakmont.
When Tyson made the field in 2009 at Bethpage Black as an amateur, it made it three generations of Alexanders. And now, Tyson had made it 10 appearances by the family in the Open.
“I’m not last anymore,” Tyson joked about tying his dad.
Except the joke was kind of on him.
“I called him to tell him I made it and was being a smart guy and asked him how many Opens he had played in,” Tyson said. “He asked me, ‘How many Masters have you played in?’ That shut me up.”
While it’s a cool story, Tyson Alexander knows that how well he does at Erin Hills — 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee — is all about him.
“We talked about it the last time I played,” he said. “It’s a cool family tradition we have going. But I’m just trying to be Tyson Alexander.”
His dad will be there, trudging along no longer as a coach but as a proud papa.
“I watched golf for 30 years and that was enough,” he said. “But when your son is playing the Open, you have to be there.”
Tyson will be there eventually. Almost as soon as he was finished qualifying, he left Jupiter — where he stayed at the home of Camilo Villegas, another former UF golfer — and flew to the Dominican Republic where he starts in a Latin PGA Tour event Thursday.
“It was the plan all along,” he said. “It’s not going to get my game ready for the U.S. Open, but I kind of know how I am as a person. If I stayed in Gainesville practicing all week all I would do is think about it.”
It’s a lot to think about.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.