Jackson Suber was the last man into the U.S. Open. Now he's in the top 10

PINEHURST, N.C. — A left-to-right 50-foot putt in a playoff, a trip to a golf mecca with no tee time, and Jon Rahm’s infected toe. All were necessary to get Jackson Suber into the U.S. Open.

The miraculous series of events that led to a 24-year-old Korn Ferry Tour player teeing it up in his first major championship and third-ever PGA Tour event simply defies logic. And Suber didn’t just show up as the last man in the field at the 2024 U.S. Open. The best part? He converted the potentially career-changing opportunity into a first-round 69 and a tie for ninth place after Round 1. The Ole Miss product stands four shots behind Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Suber said. “That’s the only way I can describe it.”

It all started in Rockville, Md. Suber, currently ranked No. 44 in the Korn Ferry Tour standings (the top 30 earn PGA Tour cards at the end of the summer), had been slipping behind week after week. He signed up for his U.S. Open qualifier after missing four cuts in as many weeks. Each one stung more than the last because, as Suber says, he wasn’t playing bad golf. It was a putt here. A club choice there. When you’re trying to earn a spot on the PGA Tour, those are the strokes that matter. For Suber, the U.S. Open sectional qualifier could have gone either way.

The Tampa, Fla., native played his first 18 holes at Woodmont Country Club’s North Course in 1 under par. Then he went out and shot a 6-under 65 in the afternoon. But golf’s longest day kept going for Suber when he missed a 6-foot putt on the 36th hole of the qualifier to go into a playoff for one of the site’s three automatic spots at Pinehurst. Instead, he entered into a playoff for the first alternate spot from the Maryland qualifier.

On the third playoff hole, with LIV’s Kieran Vincent and Suber the final two standing, Suber left himself with a 50-foot left-to-right lag putt after nearly spinning his shot off the green’s false front. Vincent had 4 feet for birdie.

Suber made his. Vincent missed.

“It was the craziest reversal,” caddie Ryan Orr said. “And here we are.”

Suber and Orr, a pair of junior golf companions, were always headed to North Carolina for the slim chance of a U.S. Open tee time. Six spots in the 156-man field were held by the USGA for players who moved up in the world rankings. Two of the spots were given to those who were newly exempt, including Adam Scott. The four remaining were given to those on the USGA’s “reallotments” list, including Sergio Garcia. Based on the strength of the field in the Maryland qualifier, Suber was told he was the first alternate for the 124th U.S. Open.

Rahm arrived at the Pinehurst interview room Tuesday morning wearing one flip-flop and one golf shoe. His sock tan exposed to the world, the Spaniard sat down at the podium and said he was in significant pain from an infection between his pinky toe and fourth toe. Rahm had withdrawn from his LIV event the week before in Houston, but he was determined to try to tee it up at No. 2 and win his second U.S. Open.

Rahm announced his decision to withdraw from the tournament at 5:35 p.m.

That meant Suber not only had a tee time at his first major but also was swapped directly in Rahm’s predetermined pairing. The world No. 293 was set to play at 1:36 p.m. with Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama in a U.S. Open featured group.

“Jordan probably after Tiger (Woods) is the most popular golfer in the world,” Suber said. “If you ask people who don’t play golf, that’s one name they know. Hideki is a global superstar. It was really cool to play with them and be up close with them and talk to them.”

Suber was on the No. 8 fairway when he got a tip from a friend that Rahm might be headed home. It became official by the time they reached the next hole.

“No. 8 and 9, I didn’t get much done in my practice round,” Suber said. “My phone started blowing up. … That was a really cool moment, especially to figure out I’m getting in the tournament out on the golf course and be able to call my family and people around me that help me out so much.”

Hours earlier, Suber and his caddie were still deciding whether they should fly to Wichita, Kan., for this week’s Korn Ferry Tour event to ensure they’d make their scheduled Thursday tee time. The last thing Suber wanted was to sit at home with nowhere to play golf this week. Things were so uncertain that Suber considered jetting to Wichita for the Wednesday pro-am — so they could at least see the golf course once — and flying back to Pinehurst if the spot indeed opened up. But there was no need for such an adventure.

Jackson Suber is four shots off the lead after his first major championship round. (David Mercer / USA Today Sports)

Suber’s adrenaline was pulsing on the first tee box at the Donald Ross design as he stood next to two Masters champions. There were whispers. There were murmurs. Even when Suber momentarily reached 2 under par for the tournament on the back nine, sneaking within three shots of the lead, spectators wondered why this lean Southerner was playing in a marquee group. “I know Hideki and Jordan,” one fan noted. “Who’s this other guy?”

The “other guy” was putting on a scrambling clinic. After a bogey on the second hole, Suber rebounded by flagging his approach on the third to 2 feet. He carded two more birdies on the front nine, on Nos. 5 and 9, in addition to three up-and-down pars that kept him afloat when he easily could have shot himself out of the tournament. The wheels nearly came off on 14, when Suber airmailed the green and scraped away a bogey, and 15, where he short-sided himself and dropped another shot. But again, Suber rid his memory of the blunders — as U.S. Opens often require one to do — and finished 1 under in his final three holes.

To say this week has been surreal for Suber isn’t doing it justice. During the practice rounds, he pocketed advice from Tony Finau. On the chipping green, he turned to his caddie with wide eyes when Woods plopped a few balls down in the adjacent bunker. But Suber always believed he could make it here. He knew it was in him, and he knew it would come one day. He just didn’t imagine it happening like this.

“I didn’t know if it was going to happen for sure, because nothing in life is for sure,” Suber said. “But for sure I was going to give it my best chance.”

(Top photo: Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

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