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Ben Smith

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Beau Hossler tees off at the 2nd hole in the first round of the Junior PGA Championship.

Drop assumptions of Open sensation

So here comes Fairway America’s favorite 17-year-old, lugging his bag up the fairway like a sherpa trudging up Mount Everest. He plods along, head down. Dark hair sprouts from beneath a navy visor jammed so low on his forehead his expression is unreadable.

Looks for all the world as if Beau Hossler is in a world of hurt, early on here at the Junior PGA Championship. He’s flown the green by a nautical mile, perhaps. Gone backpacking in the woods to the left and right of it. Landed smack in the middle of the Sahara Desert, aka one of Sycamore Hills’ many spacious bunkers.

Nah. He hasn’t done any of that.

Here’s where you learn something about Hossler, and that something is this: Assumptions are garbage. He looks like any 17-year-old you ever saw until his mouth opens, and then a 30-year-old climbs out. He looks more like what he was until he was 11 or so – a pitcher with some jump in his arm – until he swings a golf club.

And that golf ball he’s plodding along after, here on the par-4 No. 3?

It’s up ahead there on the green, shaking hands with the flagstick.

Hossler just stuck it like a dart inside 10 feet, and now you begin to get what the fuss was about six weeks ago out there on the West Coast. The kid from Mission Viejo, Calif., made the seven-hour drive up the coast to the Olympic Club in San Francisco for the U.S. Open and proceeded to become the sensation of the weekend, reaching the final round just four strokes off the lead.

He wound up with a 9-over four-day total, eight strokes behind winner Webb Simpson, but not before the gallery greeted him with standing ovations at the beginning and end of his round, and at one point started up a “Let’s go, Hossler!” chant.

So what about all that, Beau?

“It was cool,” said Hossler, machine-gunning M&Ms down his gullet while waiting out the Tuesday morning rainstorms. “Because it was only like a 7-hour drive or whatever, I got a lot of family and friends to go. So it was cool. Being from California, I was obviously helped by the crowds and everything. It was quite an experience.”

Elapsed time for all that: About 10 seconds.

The kid might look younger than his years, and stockier, perhaps, than what you think of as the ideal golfer’s body type. But the words come out of his mouth easily, nearly by rote, as if he’s been asked these same questions for 100 years.

Or at least for six weeks.

“I got to see where I could hopefully be in a couple years, that’s for sure,” he says, still talking about the Open. “I could definitely see myself out there in the future. I’ve got a long way to go before I get there, but the fact I’m able to go out there and compete, it’s good for my confidence. And it’s obviously going to help me this week.”

Sure. In a little while, in fact, he’d grab his Santa Margarita High School golf bag, head for the first tee, and scald Sycamore Hills with a 4-under 68. That would leave him three strokes off the lead.

For now, though, he’d sit upstairs in the clubhouse with his M&Ms, the breakfast of champions, and glibly run through his life story for maybe the thousandth time.

“Baseball was always kind of my thing until I was like 10 or 11,” he said.

So Beau Hossler could have been, say, Justin Verlander?

Told you not to assume.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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