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John Chin, 37, never gave up, and now he’s playing U.S. Open with dog influencer on sleeve

John Chin didn’t expect to get so emotional, but then he heard the words from Golf Channel’s Kira K. Dixon, who was interviewing him for the network’s coverage of U.S. Open final qualifying:

Your first major championship.

“She was talking to me before, and I was completely fine,” Chin recalled, “but as soon as she said that, for some reason, it just hit me really hard. I started thinking about all the times practicing, and prepping, and just trying to get ready for moments like this.”

For Chin, it’s a major debut – next week’s 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 – decades in the making. The 37-year-old journeyman has played professional golf for 14 years, briefly holding a PGA Tour card but otherwise grinding mostly on mini-tours and in state events while living at home to save every cent he can.

Now, Chin is cashing in some of that persistence.

He’s currently ranked No. 4,410 in the Official World Golf Ranking, aka tied for last with zero points, and having not made a world-ranked cut since August 2022. But that ranking was irrelevant last Monday, as rounds of 65-69 earned Chin one of four U.S. Open tickets out of the Daly City, California, qualifier at Lake Merced, along with LIV Golf’s David Puig of Spain, current UCLA standout Omar Morales and the long-hitting Charlie Reiter, who now goes by Charles after turning pro a couple years ago.

That trio, of which Reiter is the oldest at age 24, has now qualified for a combined six U.S. Opens in the past three years. The fact that Chin, a former Palmer Cupper and first-team All-American at UC Irvine, is only now making his major debut speaks to how fickle this profession can be.

“It was a lot harder than I thought it’d be, that’s for sure,” Chin said of professional golf. “This game definitely humbles you, but I’ve played it all my life, and I love it. … I guess you could say I’m psychotic enough to enjoy the suffering.”

Chin, the only child of Michael and Christina Chin, was born in Fairfax, Virginia, but he spent his formative years in Columbia, South Carolina, where he was introduced to golf by his dad. Most days, Chin would hit balls next to his dad, mirroring his dad’s righty swing (John plays lefty because of it), for hours into evening, sometimes as late as 11 p.m., on the lighted driving range at Northwoods Golf Club. He also took lessons from George Bryan III, dad to PGA Tour winner Wesley and fellow pro golfer George IV.

The Chins moved to Temecula, California, when John was in middle school. While a young kid named Rickie Fowler, who was two years younger and also frequented the fairways at Bear Creek Golf Club in Murrieta, dominated the local headlines, Chin largely went unnoticed by colleges, at least the D-I programs. He had planned to play a year of amateur golf after graduating high school and then just turn pro, but Paul Smolinski, the head coach at UC Irvine, was one of the few who saw potential.

“He had kind of closed the door on college when I got a call from his swing coach, Brad Storman,” Smolinski said. “We ended up meeting and having him on campus. He didn’t have a ton of options, and I remember he had struggled to get the tee shot in play. But he always had power, and he definitely could move it out there with the longest players. That helped set up everything else for him. And he putted well. He just holed a lot of putts that he had to make, and he made a ton of birdies.”

To this day, no player has utilized UC Irvine’s facilities, including the team’s indoor swing lab, to the extent that Chin did. And it showed in Chin’s results. He won four times, including two Big West individual titles, and was named a first-team all-conference selection all four years. He helped the Anteaters to four NCAA regionals and a 2008 NCAA Championship appearance. As a senior, he led the nation in scoring average (70.05), was a first-team All-American and was named to the U.S. Arnold Palmer Cup team that summer.

He also advanced to the final of the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links, where he lost to Jack Newman, 5 and 3, to narrowly miss out on qualifying for two majors, the Masters and U.S. Open, the following year. At the time, Chin figured major starts would be plentiful once he turned pro, a decision that came in Summer 2010.

“He had a tremendous passion for golf,” Smolinski said, “and that’s all he wanted to do.”

Chin made his first Tour start that July, at the Reno-Tahoe Open (now the Barracuda Championship), but he missed the cut. He’d make just two more starts until 2018, when he finally earned his Tour card after a season on the Korn Ferry Tour that included two runner-up finishes. Chin remembers another emotional episode, at the KFT’s regular-season finale in Portland, Oregon, when he clinched Tour membership.

WinCo Foods Portland Open - Final Round

PORTLAND, OR - AUGUST 19: John Chin (C) receives his PGA Tour card from CEO David Brown (L) and Bill Calfee, president of the tour, during a presentation ceremony for The 25 after the WinCo Foods Portland Open on August 19, 2018 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Getty Images

“That was probably the most consistent stretch of golf that I had ever played,” Chin said. “It took me a while to get to the Tour, but I was finally starting to figure out how to manage my game.”

Or so he thought. In 21 starts on Tour in 2018-19, Chin missed 14 cuts and posted two top-25s. He tied for third at the Barracuda, where he played the final round alongside eventual winner Collin Morikawa, though that came in his penultimate start and only moved him to No. 186 in points.

“Looking back, I felt like a deer in the headlights,” Chin said. “I was probably more in awe of my surroundings and stuff like that.”

Like at Torrey Pines that season, when Chin was stroking putts on the practice green with maybe two dozen people watching. Within minutes, there were over a thousand fans.

“I look over and it was like the Red Sea parting, and Tiger Woods walks onto the green,” Chin recalled. “He walks right past me, and I just froze. That was my welcome-the-Tour moment.”

Chin, though, exited as quickly as he arrived. When he pegs it Thursday at Pinehurst, it will mark his first Tour start since, in nearly five years. He played two more seasons on KFT, the super season in 2020-21 and 2022, before losing his status there, too.

“I learned a lot more about my game and how it stacks up during that time,” Chin said. ““When I’d get on a heater, I’d do well, but the times when I didn’t have it, it was a trunk slam, and that was a lot. … To be out on Tour for many years, I give those guys a ton of respect. It’s not easy. It’s how good is your bad, and their bad is really good.”

With no status, Chin kept on grinding – that is until last year’s first stage of Q-School. Sitting a couple shots below the cut line entering the final round at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes in Maricopa, Arizona, Chin broke down in tears.

Bawling like a baby, Chin asked his dad, “What’s wrong with me?”

Michael Chin responded, “You’re burnt out.”

“Yeah, I feel it,” John answered.

“I guess all those years of traveling; golf is such a brutal game, you see more failures than success,” Chin added, “so after that I took a good two months off, didn’t touch a club, just wanted to get away, reassess some things. I was never going to quit; I just wanted to get away from it.”

When Chin returned to golf, he also ramped up his previously lacking workout regimen, dropping a few hundred dollars on a workout machine that he keeps in his parents’ garage. He also runs at least twice a week. A few days prior to his final qualifier, Chin won the $10,000 first-place prize at the Soboba Shootout on the Asher Tour.

“Where many others would’ve hung it up in the face of adversity, John rededicated himself to his fitness and game, determined to make it back to the big stage,” wrote Chin’s friend Danny Oh on Instagram.

Asked why he never gave up on his dream, Chin credited his dad, his “extra set of eyes for my golf swing.”

“Without my dad, I wouldn’t even be playing,” Chin said. “He’s pushed me at the right times to keep moving forward. No one in this world believes in me more than him.”

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Michael Chin won’t caddie for his son at Pinehurst because of a bum ankle that stems from an old soccer injury, but he’ll be in attendance while Christina stays back to run the family’s dry-cleaning business.

John Chin, however, won’t be lacking in support. Oh has spent recent days garnering sponsors for Chin. How successful was Oh? Well, let’s just say Chin might look like a NASCAR driver, as he’ll be wearing logos of Callaway Golf, Short Par 4, Klimon Brands, Five Iron Golf, Paradise Auto (a Cadillac dealer in Murrieta), Rambo Materials LLC, Rubicon Founders, Saint Vincent Academy and @LolaBarksdale, the latter pair an all-girls Catholic prep school in Newark, New Jersey, and a dog influencer on social media. Chin’s left shirt sleeve will feature the account’s Instagram handle and an image of the French bulldog, who has over 170,000 followers.

“I’m playing for more than just myself,” Chin said. “But the only goal is to have fun. There are a lot of pro golfers who have never played in a major, so I’m just going to go out there and enjoy the moment. That’s the only thing that matters to me.”

His first major championship. Finally.

Why not relish it?