CROMWELL, Conn. -- The 36-hole US Open qualifying is often called the longest day in golf, but for Chip McDaniel, the road from Pebble Beach to TPC River Highlands for the Travelers Championship may have been even longer.
The 23-year-old Kentucky native survived local qualifying in Lexington, Ky., and shared medalist honors at the Springfield, Ohio sectional qualifier before finishing 78th at Pebble. It was a solid first major appearance for McDaniel, but his journey was only just beginning.
McDaniel took a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Boston Sunday night and drove two hours to Connecticut with his caddie for the Travelers Monday qualifier. McDaniel then fired a 67 and survived a 9-for-3 playoff to earn his second PGA Tour start of the season.
“Everyone’s cheering for you on Sunday at the US Open and then you go to Monday and there’s no one out there and you’re playing with guys that are grinding their butts off trying to get every opportunity they can. You just go back to reality. It was nice to get through,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel is doing more than just getting through however, as he made the cut at the Travelers with rounds of 69 and 68. But just as things were starting to calm down, McDaniel was paired with four-time major champion Brooks Koepka in Saturday’s third round.
“Yesterday I was grinding on the cutline. All kinds of thoughts going on in your head,” McDaniel said. “I got through that and then I got the text that I’m (teeing off at) 9:25 with Brooks Koepka and I’m like ‘Oh that’s pretty cool’.”
Despite facing plenty of nerves the first few holes, McDaniel settled in and fired a 2-under-par 68, beating Koepka by four shots.
“It was pretty similar (to Pebble),” McDaniel said. “It’s always nice to have a tee time on Saturday. The nervous part of that was not there. My stomach was a little queasy the first couple holes but I handled it just fine I thought.”
Koepka didn’t have many sponsors’ exemptions coming out of Florida State and took the road less traveled to the PGA Tour, going to Europe and playing the Challenge Tour and European Tour before moving back to the US full time.
The two-time US Open champion didn’t offer McDaniel much advice, but was quick to compliment his young playing partner.
“He’s a nice kid. Good player. I know he’s made four or five events out here. He’s a good player,” Koepka said. “He’ll figure it out. You never know what’s going to happen. Hopefully he gets his card and you’ll see him out here consistently.”
McDaniel will know what to expect when he tees it up Sunday, as he finished in a tie for fifth in the Dominican Republic earlier this season following a final-round 63.
“I learned a lot. Playing on Sunday when the nerves were flying and stuff like that,” McDaniel said. “It’s always good to close the weekend the right way. I’ve never really had a problem with that but I’ve learned how to do it on the PGA Tour now. I’m going to be in a similar situation quite a few shots back. So hopefully I can do that again.”
As for what’s next, McDaniel will play three straight PGA Tour Monday qualifiers as he looks to earn his PGA Tour card. He needs to earn at least the same number of points as the number 200 finisher in the FedEx Cup standings to earn a spot in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and a shot at making the PGA Tour.
But McDaniel isn’t getting ahead of himself as he is instead focusing on every individual opportunity.
“The long-term goal is to be one of the best players in the world,” he said. “The short-term goal is not waste any shots, not waste any opportunities, go out there and give it all you’ve got.”