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Late U.S. Open add Maxwell Moldovan ready to continue Springfield alternate magic


LOS ANGELES – Where was Maxwell Moldovan when he found out he was receiving one of the final three spots in this year’s U.S. Open field? P.F. Chang’s.

The Ohio State senior, who will return to school for a fifth year this fall, was first alternate after losing in an eight-hole playoff at the Springfield, Ohio final qualifier last Monday, and last weekend he headed to the West Coast to get in some practice at Los Angeles Country Club just in case he got the call.

On Sunday evening, his phone buzzed. On the other line was Robbie Zalzneck, the USGA’s senior director of player services, who kept things brief.

“Hey, just making sure your phones on,” Zalzneck said.

Five seconds after hanging up, Zalzneck rang Moldovan again, this time saying, “You better answer this one because you’re in.”

Moldovan, along with New Mexico’s Bastien Amat and former Cal standout Michael Kim, were the final three alternates into the 156-player field. This week marks Moldovan’s second straight U.S. Open appearance as he holed a 4-footer for birdie in last year’s final qualifier to punch his ticket to The Country Club, where he missed the cut.

“That feeling when I got the call was the same feeling when I made that putt last year,” Moldovan said.

Prior to Zalzneck delivering the good news, Moldovan had been hopeful but still emotional after a tough playoff defeat in Springfield, where he saw Dylan Wu get one spot in extra holes before Alex Schaake stiffed his approach on the eighth playoff hole, tapping in his birdie after Moldovan failed to drop a 10-footer. Earlier in the day, Moldovan horseshoed out a 3-footer on his 36th hole that would’ve avoided the playoff.

“It was a disappointing end to a long day,” Moldovan said. “But knowing in the past how alternates have typically had a chance, especially out of Springfield, I wasn’t completely defeated.”

After a few spins around LACC, Moldovan, a second-team All-American for the Buckeyes this past season and the No. 19 amateur in the world, feels like the iconic layout fits his game. The fairways are wide with the penalty for missing them severe, so his ball-striking figures to give him plenty of opportunities to hit his second shots from the short grass, and as a result, find greens and hope to get hot with the putter.

If that happens, Moldovan could become the second straight Springfield alternate to hold the lead at a U.S. Open. Asked if he knew which player briefly led at The Country Club after finishing his first round a year ago (and then ended up T-14), Moldovan didn’t hesitate to answer.

“Yeah, it was Nick Hardy,” Moldovan said.