{{ article.title }}

Strange journey to Open

June 14, 2007

Pleasanton's Todd Fischer tees off today in the 107th U.S. Open, and his path to Oakmont Country Club might be a wild enough tale for Hollywood.

We're talking "Tin Cup 2," minus the Winnebago-hopping posse of pals. They've stayed behind in Pleasanton, just as Fischer prefers.

"I'm trying to work out there, and they're not," Fischer said of having friends at tournaments. "I get pulled in different directions, and I've done that when I was on the (PGA) Tour (from 2003-06). I like being reclusive. I go to the golf course, put in an eight-hour day, and it's not fun to then go sit at dinner with 20 people."

Ah yes, dinner. That's a perfect launching point to detail Fischer's unique path to Oakmont.

It's not every day you dine out-of-state, return a few days later and learn the restaurant where you ate is now closed because of ...

A mercury-poisoning scare?

Fortunately for Fischer, he didn't parlay his quick May 29 meal -- a beer and some soup -- into a visit to a contaminated bathroom at Roosters Restaurant in his native Columbus, Ohio, where he went to practice for a June 4 U.S. Open qualifier there.

Two days later, Fischer was unaware of the scare (and subsequent screening of the restaurant's patrons) and teed off at the Nationwide Tour's stop just outside of Chicago.

He shot an opening-round 82 and withdrew. His back ached. His body was exhausted. But he didn't blame it on mercury exposure.

"It was a fluke day," Fischer, a Foothill High School and USF product, said Tuesday over the phone. "I was tired. I told my caddie I wasn't mad, that I was just exhausted, and because I wasn't going to make the cut, I figured I should get focused on (the U.S. Open qualifier)."

Four days later, he secured his berth in the U.S. Open, and, for the record, he didn't credit that to mercury exposure, either.

"I played good and played the way I expected," said Fischer, who finished 4 under par for 36 holes and tied for third in the 143-man, loaded field. "Now, it's nice to be out here."

Here, being Oakmont. Here, being a golf major (his third ever, all U.S. Opens). Here, being back on the golf world's map, having lost his PGA Tour card by finishing 163rd on last year's money list.

He tees off at 9:41 a.m. (PDT) today, and his threesome is second off the tee Friday at 4:11 a.m. (PDT). That's just what his Recluse Handbook calls for: Play, get to bed, wake up and play right away again.

"I know I'm good enough to be here," Fischer, 37, said. "I'm starting to play better, and I'm having more fun now. I feel like I'm coming into form, which is nice."

Not so nice is the course awaiting him and the other U.S. Open challengers, from the blind shots off the tee, to the tight fairways, to the slippery greens (and off the slippery greens).

Fischer's short-storied history of playing Oakmont: Just practice rounds the past three days. Normally those can be boring. Not at Oakmont, where there's so much to learn.

That's why Phil Mickelson practiced there a few weeks ago, only to aggravate his left wrist in the rough. Tiger Woods, of course, has studied the landscape, too, and when asked at Tuesday's news conference which hole could be fun, he replied: "Yeah, the 19th is great, man."

One of the highlights of Fischer's career came in a U.S. Open, specifically the par-3 seventh hole he aced in the 2000 championship at Pebble Beach. He missed the cut that year, as well as at the 2001 U.S. Open, but maybe things will be different after his six-year Open hiatus.

"I'm older and I know what to do," Fischer said. "I'm not as strong, but I know what needs to be done. I'll take things one at time and hit my shots."

His shots have been on the money of late. After missing the cut in four of his first five Nationwide events this year, he's recovered nicely, finishing in the top 12 at three straight tournaments before his Chicago "fluke."

One of those missed cuts came March 30 at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, just down the road from his Pleasanton home (he and his wife, Amy, also have a house near Reno).

The day before that tournament, he meandered down Wente's 18th fairway and told some friends he didn't know how much longer he'd keep up this golfing gig. His back was aching, his drives were getting shorter and his paychecks weren't coming.

"It's been hard to stay motivated this year," Fischer said. "I still don't know what the rest of my career holds."

A strong showing this weekend, though, might garner him not only exemptions on the PGA Tour, but, heck, how about a spot in "Tin Cup 2"? Hopefully he'll provide a better ending.