BELLINGHAM -- On the warmest May 6 in recorded Bellingham history, a former Oregon State University All-American looked like the coolest competitor ever to play the Bellingham Golf and Country Club course.
James Allenby of Langley, B.C., broke the course record by three strokes with a crowd-pleasing 61 to lead qualifying in the 18-hole U.S. Open Local Qualifier on Monday.
To paraphrase one of the dozens and dozens of golfers, officials, caddies and fans who were buzzing and boggled over Allenby's 10-under-par score (the course played par 71 instead of the usual 72):
"A 61? You've got to be kidding! A 61? A 61!"
That's right, a 61. It probably deserves 18 exclamation points, especially because Allenby had never even seen the course.
"I was one of the bunch of guys who shared the old record of 64," said a startled Luke Bennett, the former Sehome High and Western Washington University standout. "I think I was a sophomore at Western when I shot that 64. That 61 is just an amazing effort for Allenby."
Bennett, who shot a 2-over 73, said he was "not one bit" sorry to lose his share of the record to Allenby, who earned his top honors at OSU with All-American status in 2008.
"It just gives me something to shoot for," said Bennett, who runs the golf school at Lake Padden.
Seven golfers among the 111 starters qualified for sectional competition early next month (not all golfers will choose the same sectional). They will be playing for berths in the U.S. Open June 13-16 at Merion GC in Ardmore, Pa.
Two sectional qualifiers have local connections. Tyler Wong, assistant pro at Sudden Valley, and Jack Kelly, a redshirt freshman golfer at Western, won a three-way playoff on the first hole as Wong scored a birdie to finish sixth and Kelly a par to take seventh, both with fine pressure putts that were far from "gimmes." Stanwood's Derek Berg thus became first alternate after shooting a 69 in regulation to match Wong and Kelly, both of whom came in before Berg.
The second through fifth qualifiers were Langley's Darren Wallace, 66; Yelm's John Cassidy, 68; Olympia's John Eisentrout, 68; and Abbotsford, B.C.'s Nick Taylor, 68.
The official Bellingham temperature record set Monday was 78, four degrees warmer than the previous mark set in 1957. But most of the golfers agreed it felt like the 80s.
Allenby, though, teed off when it was in the 60s in the morning and was long gone by the time most of the golfers came in, virtually all shaking their heads while marveling over his 61.
Allenby talked about his sensational day in a short interview tape-recorded by USGA official Derek Wideman.
Of his 7-under 29 on the first nine holes, Allenby responded, "It was pretty much perfect. Nothing could go wrong on that side. ... It was crazy, it was fun!"
He scored an eagle on the par-4, 399-yard 10th hole, leaving him 9-under heading into the final 8 holes. He had a birdie on No. 14 and pars on the other final seven holes.
"I didn't feel that much different," he said of his score after 10 holes. "I knew I was having an awesome round. Each time I stood up to the ball, it felt the same. ... This is huge momentum (going into the sectional)."
Mike Montgomery, head pro at Bellingham G&CC, was enthusiastic over Allenby's 61, including two eagles and seven birdies.
"I don't care how you slice it, it's pretty phenomenal," Montgomery said, pun definitely not intended. "I thought we might see a 63, maybe a 62, some year soon, but I didn't think about a 61. His front nine was X-Box golf. We set up the course fair, but it wasn't easy. It was challenging, but it wasn't ridiculous. We just tried to let the players golf and decide who the best player was."
J.R. Rawitzer, father of current Oregon State senior player Matt Rawitzer, who shot a par 71, expressed his own amazement.
"I've been a member here (for many years) and no one's ever come close to anything like that 61, and under these conditions," J.R. said. "The rough was taller, the greens were faster, with difficult pin positions."
He noted more than 9,800 players are participating in local qualifers, and this was doubtless one of the best of all scores, only two shy of the regular PGA record.
Matt Rawitzer tuned up well for Oregon State's appearance as a team in the NCAA Regional. He recently was again nominated for All-Pacific 12 academic golf honors, as well.
In addition to Wong, Rawitzer and Bennett, other scores by Whatcom County residents included Blaine's Jeff Coston, 71; Keith Henderson, 73; and Chris Jorgensen, 75, along with Bellingham's Jake Koppenberg, 74.
Wong was thrilled with his 12-foot birdie putt to win the playoff.
"I shot a slice off the tee, but I got lucky after (the slice) landed in front of a tree," said the personable Wong, who qualified for sectionals for the first time in three tries. "Then I hit (with) a 7-iron and tried to hook the shot as much as I could, and I landed about 12 feet in front of the hole."
His putt was perfect, leaving it up to Kelly to sink his putt for a par-4.
"I've had a lot of lower-back pain and I didn't make Western's travel squad, so this is pretty special," said Kelly, whose teammates were involved in regional competition at Dupont. "It's been a tough year, but my teammates are really happy and supportive for me."
Kelly, who turns 20 years old on May 18 and hails from Mount Si High, called his round of 2-under 69 "the best I've played under intense pressure."
A certain guy named Allenby could doubtlessly say that, too.