RISING SUN — Many times, as they finished yet another practice round at Rising Sun’s Chesapeake Bay Golf Club, Elkton brothers Zach and Austin Barbin would approach the 18th green and their imagination would whisk them away to the rugged coastline at California’s Pebble Beach Golf Links or the tree-shaded greens of New York’s infamous Bethpage Black course.
“We’ve definitely talked about it. That’s just what we’ve done our whole lives,” Zach said. “We’d putt at Chesapeake Bay, and I’d say, ‘This is to win the U.S. Open.’ Then Austin would say, ‘What about me?’ So I’d say, ‘This is a Barbin playoff for the U.S. Open.’”
Earlier this month, the siblings advanced to within a round of making that dream a reality. A pair of strong performances in their respective local qualifying tournaments placed them both in the 63-player field at the U.S. Open Sectional at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville on June 3, where four spots were on the line to compete in this past weekend’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
While the brothers fell short of shooting the score needed to play in one of golf’s four major tournaments, their journey remains a remarkable feat. With only a handful of players from around the world eventually advancing to play in the U.S. Open from an initial qualifying field of nearly 9,000 amateur and professional golfers, the fact two brothers made it to the final stage represents a rare accomplishment.
“The experience was unbelievable,” said Zach, 20, who along with Austin, 18, are the middle of four brothers, all of whom attended Red Lion Christian in Delaware. “I was in school when Austin was qualifying [for the sectional]. My qualifier was four days later, and it wasn’t really in my mind that Austin got through until the end, when I realized what had happened. We both got to go sectionals. I can’t imagine too many brothers make it.”
Zach currently plays golf for Liberty University in Virginia, while Austin, who recently won the DIAA State Golf Championship, is headed to College Park in the fall to play for the University of Maryland golf team.
The duo followed in the footsteps of their father, Andrew Barbin Sr., the general manager and director of golf at Chesapeake Bay Golf Club — Rising Sun, who qualified for the U.S. Open Sectional once in his career.
“I have three other brothers and we all play golf,” Austin said. “We’re all super competitive. Growing up, we all played other sports like basketball, hockey, baseball, but just that competitiveness and us going out and trying to beat each other just made us better. We always had that urge to be the best, win and reach that next level.”
Austin pushed through to the sectional after firing 2-under par and emerging from a three-way playoff with Joey Lane and David Kocher, both professionals on the PGA China Tour, to secure the third-and-final spot at his local qualifier at Hillendale Country Club in Phoenix, Md. on May 2.
His brother joined him in Rockville after shooting an even-par 71 at the local qualifier at Makefield Highlands Golf Club in Yardley, Pa. on May 6. He ended the round in a tie for third place.
“It was pretty cool stuff. I kind of had my best going, kept keeping the pedal down and didn’t really stop. I just felt really good and kept on playing solid golf,” Austin said. “During the sectional, I just tried to stay positive, tried to stay loose. I was playing with a great player, [professional golfer] Denny McCarthy, and we actually had a gallery the whole nine-and-a-half hours around the course. I was just trying to contain my body language and just act like a professional.”
Austin fired a 79 over the first 18 holes of the sectional, but rebounded to shoot a 75 over the final 18 and finish the difficult tournament with a plus-10. Zach had a 78 and 79, respectively, to end with a plus-13. The co-winners, Bill Hurley III and Arendell, both ended with a 3-under total.
“I thought I played well. They set it up really, really tough. When guys who have won on the PGA Tour are only shooting 1-, 2-, 3-under, you know it’s not playing super easy,” Zach observed. “There’s not any easy pins, the wind got up, and I thought the qualifying scores would be higher than they were. It was definitely a cool experience.”
Afterwards, the brothers came together with family to compare their rounds, a routine that takes place regardless if it follows a nonchalant outing at Chesapeake Bay Golf Club or with a ticket to Pebble Beach on the line.
“An event like that with Austin is really cool. We’ve played our whole lives together, and to see each other progress to play at a level like that is really cool. Maybe one day we’ll be able to compete with each other at a high level,” Zach said. “Afterwards, we got to talk about our round, our experience. I think it was the coolest thing. It was way better because we both got to share the spotlight with our friends, family and community.”
While difficult, both players can shoot for the U.S. Open again in the future.
“To represent Cecil County, which pretty much made me the person I am today, is a pretty good feeling. I can look back and know that’s my home,” Austin said. “Next time I go out there, I’m going out there to play for my family, my state, my county.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig