Brehaut becomes an unlikely 46-year-old leader of the rainsoaked and delayed US Open

By Tim Reynolds, AP
Friday, June 19, 2009

A long, long, long road to Bethpage for Brehaut

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — If golf hadn’t worked out, Jeff Brehaut figures he’d be flipping houses right now, not sitting atop the leaderboard at the U.S. Open.

After all, the 46-year-old needed a lucky 13th trip to Q-school before getting his PGA Tour card. Before that he spent seven years driving his family around to mini-tour events, 30,000 miles a year by his estimate.

“My journey,” Brehaut said, “is different than a lot of guys.”

For sure, Brehaut took the long way to Bethpage Black.

So unlikely as it may seem, when Brehaut returns to the waterlogged course Friday morning, he’ll be tied for the lead, ahead of three reigning major championship winners — one shot ahead of Angel Cabrera, two up on Tiger Woods, five better than Padraig Harrington.

OK, so he’s only played 11 holes and the first round isn’t even over yet, thanks to a daylong rain that turned Bethpage into Bathpage and prompted a suspension of play less than 3½ hours into the tournament.

Assuming he sleeps at all Thursday night, Brehaut will wake up Friday with the lead in a major, sharing first place with fellow longer-than-long shots Johan Edfors, Andrew Parr and Ryan Spears.

“It’s a long way to go,” said Brehaut, who’s playing on the Nationwide Tour these days. “Not that this isn’t great.”

No matter what happens Friday, Saturday, Sunday or whenever this tournament might end — the forecast for the rest of the weekend is not good, and some people are just hoping for a Monday finish — it’ll go down as a memorable trip for Brehaut.

In fact, a two-birdie, one-bogey, eight-par showing Thursday isn’t even his highlight of the week. That came Wednesday, in a practice round.

He approached a green surrounded by a rabid gallery, virtually all craning their necks to see the next group, which just happened to include Bethpage favorites Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk.

Safe to say, they weren’t there to see Brehaut. He gave them a show anyway.

Brehaut holed a shot from the sand, then tossed another ball into the same spot and did it again on the very next swing.

“It was the funniest moment. I was jumping up and down like Bob Tway when he held on to beat Greg Norman,” Brehaut said, referring to Tway’s chip-in to win the 1986 PGA Championship. “I pumped my fist. I signed half an hour worth of autographs. Afterwards I told my wife I felt like I had just won the tournament. It was that funny.”

He was laughing in the rain on Thursday as well.

Brehaut’s day started with a bogey, and for the next 10 holes he was flawless. His day began with a three-word pep talk from his wife — “Embrace your conditions,” she said — and that’s exactly what he did.

He went off in the first group on the back side, lauding playing partner J.P. Hayes for starting with a birdie on the par-4 10th.

“Wow, you’re leading the Open,” Brehaut marveled.

Little did he — or anyone else — know that’s where he’d be at day’s end.

It’s an out-of-nowhere group out in front at Bethpage, even with the asterisk that the first round isn’t anywhere near completed. Edfors is playing his ninth major; he’s never made a cut in the previous eight. The rain was so bad that Spears’ mother didn’t even go out on the course to watch Thursday morning. And Parr has a truly remarkable tale — he suffered a stroke in 2007, endured some paralysis, and thought he might never play golf again.

They’ve all overcome much to get here. But at 46 and in a major for only the second time, Brehaut might have more of an appreciation of being on this rainslicked stage than anyone else.

“I won Q-school once and that was pretty good,” Brehaut said. “I mean, I’m not bad. But not everybody’s a college All-American. A lot of us have to kind of be the guys that everyone beats up on. That’s fine.”

For one day, anyway, Brehaut became the other guy.

“Pretty cool,” he said.

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