Local duo wowed by U.S. Open experience

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Kyle Mueller

Well, he missed the cut.

But at least he has a good story to tell.

"I guess we made it to the weekend," said Kyle Mueller, "at the U.S. Open."

True enough, even if only because rain at Oakmont Country Club forced him to play his second — and final — round on Saturday.

Mueller, who recently finished his sophomore season on the Michigan golf team, shot 10 over in his major debut, missing the cut by four strokes — but certainly more than holding his own.

He tied with a guy named Ernie Els, and actually beat the likes of Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama. Patrick Wilkes-Krier, a professional teacher from Ypsilanti who grew up in Ann Arbor, also finished at 10 over.

"It was pretty unreal," Mueller said Monday night. "It's really hard to describe it. Even though it didn't go as planned, it was incredible."

Both Mueller, an amateur, and Wilkes-Krier, a pro, had visions of making the cut in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, where they had plenty of family and friends cheering them on, but both were done in by tough opening rounds — 78, followed by much-tidier 72s.

The "wow" moments were everywhere.

After they both played a practice round Sunday with Jordan Spieth, Mueller went on to play practice rounds with Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, J.B. Holmes and James Hahn, while Wilkes-Krier played with world No. 1 Jason Day.

Seriously, Spieth one day, Day the next for Wilkes-Krier.

"I saw an early tee time with just Jason Day's number and another golfer I played with on the mini-tours (Richie Schembechler, yes a relative of Bo, the famous Michigan football coach)," said Wilkes-Krier, 32. "I can't pass up an opportunity to play with Jason Day, so I slipped my name in there.

"He's an amazing golfer and person, which was really cool."

For Mueller, 21, the moment he'll always remember was standing on the first and striping his first tee shot down the middle.

And then he'll remember the final hole.

"Honestly, the best moment all week was walking down 18 in the final round, with everyone in the stands and walking up with Chris (O'Neill, his caddie and former teammate at UM)," he said. "It was pretty cool."

Mueller also figures he signed 50 to 100 autographs —  and yes, a few of the patrons even knew his name.

"I couldn't believe people wanted it," he said, laughing. "I'm devaluing your flag and stuff."

Both had their highlight moments — Wilkes-Krier made his share of long putts, many on greens surrounded by big galleries that went crazy, and Mueller with an unreal up-and-down from a lethal bunker in Round 1.

Now, they are back to their normal routines.

Wilkes-Krier will continue teaching at Miles of Golf in Ypsilanti.

"This could go so many ways. It could be a stepping stone to playing better golf and maybe turning my career around," he said. "I hope it's gonna lead to better things, but you know, at the end of the day, it's just one tournament."

Mueller stayed in Oakmont until Sunday, then headed off to Rhode Island, where he's playing this week in the Northeast Amateur.

He was, however, able to catch the final round — and all the USGA and Dustin Johnson penalty-stroke drama — on television.

"I thought that was a little ridiculous," Mueller said. "He said he didn't move it (his ball on the fifth green Sunday), and golf is a game of integrity. The USGA prides itself on that.

"All the guys on the PGA Tour were for Justin, they all kind of had his back. That was pretty cool.

"The Tour players really stick together and are all good buddies. You kind of saw that this week."

And, as it turns out, this weekend, too.