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Fran Quinn, 57, makes history in qualifying for hometown U.S. Open

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Massachusetts legend Fran Quinn, 57, isn’t just taking a victory lap at the U.S. Open

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    BROOKLINE, Mass. – The oldest player in the field played one final practice round Wednesday for the 122nd U.S. Open at The Country Club. Fans lined the gallery ropes three deep. Fran Quinn, 57, had built a buzz as the oldest player to survive U.S. Open Final Qualifying since the USGA began keeping such records in the early 1980s. And he did so as a native son, hailing from Holden, Massachusetts just 40 minutes west.

    On his final approach shot before teeing it up Thursday in the first group off No. 10, he holed a mid-iron from 186 yards. “Bet the mortgage on Fran!” yelled a fan from outside the ropes. Quinn nodded and smiled.

    Welcome to what at least one news outlet has called the story of this U.S. Open so far. Quinn, who grew up as one of seven siblings, cultivated a gritty mentality that family and friends describe as “never-say-die.” He first earned a PGA TOUR card at 26. He earned his second TOUR card at 44.

    His son Owen, 23, also a professional golfer, calls him a “journeyman from Massachusetts.” And now, Fran Quinn, a high school quarterback before turning his full attention to golf, will tee it up against the best in the world in his home state. It’s a victory lap, to be sure, but it’s more than that, for his competitive fire remains very much intact.

    “It’s innate,” his wife Lori said of her husband’s drive. “He was born with that. Coming from a family of golfers, and he was just an athlete. Played hockey, football, really good quarterback. Playing with these young guys, it keeps him young. He hits it long, he walks with them. Fifty-seven is purely a number, and he’s not 57.”

    Quinn reinvented his game in his late 30s and early 40s, said Kevin Johnson, a fellow Massachusetts native and longtime travel companion on the Korn Ferry Tour. (They combined for 737 starts and 10 wins on that circuit.) He never stopped looking for that extra edge, even after fracturing a bone in his shoulder in summer 2019.

    The payoff: Quinn will hit the tournament’s opening tee shot off No. 10 on Thursday, a peak moment for a player who attended the 1988 U.S. Open at The Country Club as a fan after falling one stroke short at Final Qualifying. He also advanced to the final match of the 1987 Massachusetts State Amateur at The Country Club, falling to Johnson.

    While attending the 1988 U.S. Open, Quinn’s dad, Fran Sr., said Quinn would play for his national championship someday. Fran Sr. was correct, five times over – Quinn has also competed in the 1992, 1994, 1996 and 2014 U.S. Opens. At the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, Quinn was tied for second after the opening round and made the cut, leading to a memorable Father’s Day walk with Owen on the bag.

    This one, though, packs an extra punch because it’s so close to home.

    Lori caddied in Monday’s practice round before handing the bag to Owen for the remainder of the week. Fran was showered with adoration at every turn across Tuesday and Wednesday practice rounds, punctuated by his hole-out.

    How is this happening? It goes back to the kids, and the fact that Quinn plays against him every chance he gets.

    He competes against players his own age on PGA TOUR Champions – he finished T21 at last week’s American Family Insurance Championship – but tees it up against Owen, nephew Matthew Quinn and various high school- and college-aged family friends when he’s home. It keeps him young. Matthew, a rising high school senior who completed an Algebra II final exam last Monday before tracking Fran’s hole-by-hole scores during afternoon play at Final Qualifying, said Quinn is a “guaranteed 4 under par” per round in their 2-on-2 best-ball games at Worcester CC.

    Others, too, have been impressed by his game.

    “He’s still got the distance, and I think that’s from playing with the young guys,” said Johnson, now a tournament referee on PGA TOUR Champions. “Competing with Owen and his buddies has kept Franny swinging hard. If he played with guys who dink it out there 250 all the time, you’re going to think you’re hitting it long when you’re hitting it 270.

    “He has not lost any distance,” Johnson continued. “It’s amazing. Even after his shoulder injury, he still hits it hard, and I think that’s why he’s been so competitive.”

    The injury was a fluke accident. In the midst of the 2019 PGA TOUR Champions season, Quinn tripped in a pothole in a crosswalk in New York City while visiting his son Sean. Fifty percent of his glenoid (right shoulder socket) was shattered. For a year, he couldn’t raise his arm above his belly button. He underwent a first and then a second surgery, the latter operation performed by New England Patriots head physician Mark Price.

    Thus began an 18-month recovery in which Quinn’s fire never waned.

    “I remember him being in his kitchen, when he was in his sling,” said family friend Joe Murphy. “He’d be like, ‘Murph, I’ve got my wedge going. I’ve got my wedge yards up. I can still beat you.’”

    Quinn hadn’t attempted U.S. Open qualification since 2015, but this year’s proximity to home piqued his interest – and when he learned his son and nephew would play Local Qualifying, those competitive instincts kicked in.

    “I was with Owen in Florida,” said Matthew. “I put myself in for Local Qualifying, and Owen put himself in. His dad was like, ‘Why don’t you put me in as well?’”

    Quinn was 3-over through nine holes at his Local Qualifying site, Taconic GC in Williamstown, Massachusetts. But he battled back to post 1-over, one stroke clear of a playoff. Owen carded the same 1-over total to advance, as well.

    From there, Quinn stayed the course at his Final Qualifying site in Purchase, New York – the same location where he missed qualifying for the 1988 U.S. Open at Brookline by a shot. This time, with Lori on the bag, he made amends. He was 2 under for 36 holes, then made birdie on the second hole of an 8-for-3 playoff to earn his spot in the field.

    “I was like, ‘Come on, you’re the most seasoned player here. You have the most experience in playoffs. Let’s get in,’” Lori said. “He’s like, ‘OK.’ And he did. He listens to me. What a good husband!”

    Quinn’s story has captured the hearts and minds in his native Massachusetts and beyond.

    “It’s to show his family, his son … it just shows that good things can happen if you just keep working hard,” said Johnson. “He was at the end of his rope after the shoulder injury, didn’t know if he was ever going to come back. But he just grinded it out. It just shows that hard work … he loves the game, and now to get this opportunity, it’s like the icing on the cake.

    “I know him,” Johnson added. “He’s not just going to go through it. He’s going to work his butt off. He can play well there. He’s trying to do really well. It’s not just a ceremonial, happy that he got there. I think he’s definitely going to do well.”

    “I’m just so proud of him,” added Lori. “He’s kind of the bionic man.”

    “Fran,” said family friend John Pagano, “is the man.”

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.