Wes Short Jr. never thought it was going to be easy qualifying for the U.S. Open.
He didn't think it would take 34 years, either.
His moment finally arrived Monday at Wedgewood Golf and Country Club in Ohio. The 52-year-old Short, playing on three hours' sleep on a course he had never seen, rolled in a birdie on his 35th hole, finished with a par and walked over to the scoring area to see if he had a chance.
"I went to the scoreboard and hung out for a while, and they finally said, 'You're in,'" Short said. "One guy came up to me afterward and he goes, 'You don't seem all that excited.' I said: 'I am. I'm just too danged tired to get excited.'"
He was talking about his long day.
He just as easily could have been referring to all those years trying.
Short was an 18-year-old high school senior in Austin, Texas, when he made it through local qualifying and failed in the 36-hole qualifier in Houston.
What followed now seems like a blur.
He spent one year at Texas before he and his wife had a daughter. He left college to work for his father, swinging a sledge hammer in a stone quarry to make bricks for houses. He eventually found work as an assistant pro at two clubs near Austin, and he taught at a driving range with J.L. Lewis. He probably would have stayed in the pro shop except that he didn't want to be another name in too many tales he had heard.
"I didn't want to be one of those people at 50 years old who said, 'Hey, I could have made it on the tour,' which most of the time is a bunch of B.S.," he said. "I wanted to go prove it, so that at least when I turned 50, I wasn't going to be one of them. I would know."
And he proved it.
He spent three years on the Hooters Tour, made it onto the Nationwide Tour and eventually got his PGA Tour card at age 40, right about the time his back started to bother him. In his second year, with the season nearly over, Short got into the Las Vegas tournament as an alternate and beat Jim Furyk in a playoff to earn $720,000.
That was two years before a PGA Tour victory earned a spot at the Masters. He lost in a playoff for a U.S. Open spot the following year.
The PGA Championship in 2006 at Medinah was the only major he ever played — until now.
On the PGA Tour Champions, he won as a 50-year-old rookie. He already has played in the U.S. Senior Open twice, withdrawing the first year after three rounds and a bad back. But he never gave up on the U.S. Open.
That's why he went through 18-hole local qualifying in Austin in May, getting through in a playoff. And that's why he traveled to Ohio on Sunday night after he tied for 17th in the Principal Charity Classic in Iowa, not getting to his hotel room until nearly 1 a.m. and waking up three hours later to play 36 holes in one day.
He was almost done when the qualifier was halted for two hours because of storms. For once, good fortune was on his side.
"To tell you the truth, I was already kind of gassing it," he said. "It may have been real helpful. I just had three holes to finish, but my legs were starting to say, 'Hey, enough of this.'"
The U.S. Open is all about patience, perseverance and determination. Those aren't just the qualities of the winner. That's what it took Short just to get a tee time in the major known as the toughest test in golf.
His story, while not exclusive, is what gives the U.S. Open so much flavor. Everyone has a chance, even a 52-year-old playing for the first time.
The last time the U.S. Open was at Oakmont in 2007, Jeff Brehaut made it for the first time. Brehaut remembers trying unsuccessfully to qualify for the first time as an 18-year-old — oddly enough, also in 1982 — and instead going to Pebble Beach as a spectator, believing he would be playing there in due time.
Now it is Short's turn.
Short caught his breath after the qualifier and flew to Philadelphia for the Senior Players Championship, still trying to absorb what he accomplished — finally — and what awaits next week at Oakmont. He wasn't sure where he would stay or who would come watch. His daughter is expecting Short's first grandchild in a few months.
He only knows the U.S. Open by reputation, and Oakmont is reputed to be the toughest course in America.
"In my opinion, I've got to believe I can still hit the ball pretty good, and if I can putt, I can compete," Short said. "You always have to have that belief. If I had listened to people, I wouldn't have been on tour."
If he had listened, he probably would have stopped trying.