A year ago in U.S. Open Local Qualifying, Rich Lash shot an 84. Needless to say, Monday's 3-under-par 68 was considerably more satisfying.
And the way the Denver resident earned a share of medalist honors in U.S. Open Local Qualifying at CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora made it all the more so.
After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, he went 7 under for his last dozen, highlighted by a 20-foot eagle on No. 11.
"Really, it's been a grind," said Lash, a PGA instructor at Bear Creek Golf Club who once played on the Alps Tour in Europe. "I've had some tough times -- almost giving up and stuff. There haven't been a whole lot of highlights, to be honest with you. So this really feels good to put up a good number. Today I just got the putter hot and kept going."
The 31-year-old was part of a diverse group of five golfers -- three professionals and two amateurs, ranging in age from 18 to 35 -- who on Monday punched their tickets to the second and final stage of U.S. Open Qualifying.
Jackson Solem of Longmont, a University of Denver golf signee who will graduate from high School on Friday, shared medalist honors in the U.S. Open Local Qualifier with two longtime professionals, Lash and Jacob Lestishen of Lone Tree. All three carded 3-under-par 68s at CommonGround, the CGA-owned and operated facility.
Joining Lestishen, Solem and Lash (pictured, from left) in advancing to 36-hole Sectional Qualifying, which will be held on June 5 at 10 sites in the U.S., will be University of Colorado golfer Ross Macdonald of Castle Pines and Andy Connell of Denver, a PGA instructor at CommonGround. Both of them shot 69s and prevailed in a four-man playoff for the final two Sectional berths.
Connell and Macdonald two-putted for birdie on the first playoff hole -- the par-5 18th -- from 20 feet and 60 feet, respectively, to advance. Two former Colorado Christian University golfers, 2016 CGA Match Play champion Nathaniel Goddard of Fort Collins and Jack Cummings of Arvada, made par and were left in the alternate positions after also shooting 69s. Cummings, who made two eagles in regulation on Monday, parred the second playoff hole to earn the first alternate spot.
Solem (left), the 2015 4A state high school champion who finished third at the 2015 AJGA Hale Irwin Colorado Junior at CommonGround, shined again at the course on Monday. He was 5 under par through 10 holes, then overcame three consecutive bogeys in the middle of the back nine and finished with a birdie.
"This means everything," the 18-year-old said. "I've grown up watching the U.S. Open with my dad. It's something that's always been a goal for me. I've always been working hard for it and I really haven't performed in those situations, so it's really cool to actually get to do it this time."
Connell, the 35-year-old son of Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Tom Connell, will be going to his fourth Sectional and Lestishen to his second, while Solem, Lash and Macdonald will be making their Sectional debuts. None of the five has made it to the U.S. Open, which this year will be held June 15-18 at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis.
"The U.S. Open has always been a dream of mine," said Lesthishen, who also advanced to Sectionals in 2009, the year he turned pro after playing college golf at the University of New Mexico. "It'll be fun to give it another shot and see if I can get through. It's been a while, so I'm excited about that."
Lestishen played the par-5s in 4 under par on Monday, draining a 35-foot eagle on No. 7.
Connell (left) was a local favorite on Monday as he's been a longtime fixture at CommonGround as an instructor, one who has a major role in junior programming at the CGA course. He estimates he's played about 100 rounds at the CommonGround over the years.
"Obviously, tee to green out here I know the course," he said. "I know where to hit it. I really don't even need to look at yardages. But the firmness of the golf course today and the speed of the greens were something I haven't seen out here. This is my first tournament round out here. I had a 6-footer on the 10th hole to start the day and hit it about 5 feet past. It took me a little bit to get used to the greens. It played tough, harder than I expected.
"I'm really looking forward to having another crack at Sectionals. Obviously it's a lot of fun to play in. It gives you a good chance to measure your game against some of the best players."
Macdonald (below), a two-time Junior Amateur champion in Colorado, is coming off a redshirt season at CU, so he's trying to get back into peak tournament form. On Monday, he was certainly solid, with three birdies -- all on par-5s -- to go along with a bogey.
"Definitely for me it's been getting back into the swing of things," he said. "Obviously early in the season you make some silly mistakes, but I just try to eliminate big mistakes and put myself in good positions and get solid with the putter.
"It's huge, obviously, to have a chance to play in the U.S. Open. It's a long shot (to make it) -- there's a lot of really good players in Sectionals and a lot of pros -- but I'll try to enjoy it and play as well as I can."
In all, 84 players registered for Monday's qualifying tournament, with 79 actually teeing it up.
Last week at the first Colorado-based Local Qualifying tournament, Zahkai Brown of Golden, Josh Seiple of Castle Rock, Pat Grady of Denver, Jake Staiano of Englewood and Jon Lindstrom of Broomfield earned spots into Sectionals. Lindstrom originally was the first alternate, but he advanced when Chris Thayer of Golden withdrew the day after qualifying for Sectionals.
The third and final Colorado-based U.S. Open Local Qualifier will take place on Tuesday at Collindale Golf Course in Fort Collins, where another five players will advance to Sectionals.
U.S. Open Local Qualifying
At Par-71 CommonGround GC in Aurora
ADVANCE TO SECTIONALS
Rich Lash, Denver 38-30--68
Jackson Solem, Longmont 32-36--68
Jacob Lestishen, Lone Tree 34-34--68
Ross Macdonald, Castle Pines 35-34--69
Andy Connell, Denver 35-34--69
ALTERNATES (in order)
Jack Cummings, Arvada 36-33--69
Nathaniel Goddard, Fort Collins 33-36--69
For complete results, CLICK HERE.