As a stiff South Florida breeze blew in darkening afternoon clouds, Austen Truslow stood over his approach shot on the first hole at Pine Tree Golf Club.
The 27-year-old started on the back nine and was playing his 28th hole of the 36-hole final qualifying marathon for the U.S. Open. Truslow’s ball rested in an unpredictable lie in the Bermuda rough and the pin was tucked over a deep bunker in the left corner of the green.
“It was a sucker pin,” says Truslow. “The one thing you can’t do is hit it short in that bunker. I was trying to land it at least pin high and get something to 30 feet.”
Wearing long sleeves with a popped collar to protect against the summer sun, Truslow swung. The ball launched high off his clubface and hung in the air with more spin than he anticipated. The shot was headed straight at the pin – and the bunker.
Truslow was relieved when the ball landed softly over the sandy death trap and kicked straight toward the hole. The ball trickled and disappeared in the hole. The eagle moved him to 5-under par for the round and 9-under par for the qualifier, and Truslow held a seven shot lead with eight holes to play.
“That’s when the nerves and the overwhelming excitement of knowing if I could just get it in the house, I’d be in the U.S. Open, kind of kicked in,” says Truslow. “I actually think if that approach shot didn’t go in, I would have played better for the rest of the round.”
Truslow couldn’t remember the last time he played 36 holes in a day. The fatigue was starting to set in. In the final eight holes, Truslow battled leg cramps and the anxiety of trying to qualify for his first U.S. Open. The final holes weren’t pretty, but he got the job done. Truslow breathed sighs of relief as he was interviewed by Golf Channel after the qualifier.
“It’s been very difficult,” Truslow said in the interview. “I didn’t know whether I’d be playing competitively again. It’s been a dream of mine to play the U.S. Open my whole life.”
While the closing holes were a struggle, they weren’t as challenging as Truslow’s past two years.
In the second half of 2020, Truslow began playing the best golf of his life on the Korn Ferry Tour. He tied for second, third and fifth before the halfway mark of the megaseason – when the 2020 and 2021 KFT seasons were combined due to the pandemic.
He was known for being the one-handed maestro around the greens – chipping deftly with only his right hand. It’s one thing to chip single-handed as a drill around the practice green, but to use it in competition with your career on the line takes courage. While sometimes self-conscious, Truslow felt comfortable adopting the technique and improved.
The year 2021 brought a series of unfortunate events that would set Truslow’s career back. He entered 2021 ranked 42nd on the Korn Ferry Tour points list. The top-25 at the end of the season earned a PGA Tour card and the top-75 kept their jobs. During the opening event of the year, Truslow walked into a bathroom stall in the early morning. Still half-asleep, he slammed his hand in the door and wasn’t able to grip a club for a week.
When his hand felt better, Truslow played in a friend’s charity scramble. A member of his scramble team hit a cold shank with a 5-iron directly into Austen’s shin bone. As soon as the ball hit his leg, Austen was on the ground. He wouldn’t be able to walk for 10 days.
When he returned to his feet, Truslow missed the cut in his first tournament back and then traveled to Georgia for the Club Car Savannah Championship. Truslow began feeling ill in the tournament’s second round, but he was near the top of the leaderboard. He felt exhausted and feverish all weekend and fell out of contention. When the tournament ended, he tested positive for COVID-19.
Three weeks later, at the MGM Championship at Paiute in Las Vegas, Truslow arrived on the final hole of the day. The cold wind and desert sun had hardened the ground throughout the week. As he hit his tee shot with a 5-iron, Truslow leaned the shaft more than usual in his downswing, trying to flight the ball. The club dug into the concrete-like turf sending a shock-wave through the shaft and into Truslow’s wrist, nearly snapping it. He heard a pop and felt searing pain.
Unable to swing, Truslow withdrew from the tournament. An MRI revealed he had torn the scapholunate ligament in his left hand and he would need major surgery to reconnect the tissue and ligament. He’d be out for the rest of the season.
In a normal year, Truslow would have been granted a medical leave from the Tour. But the pandemic changed everything. Because no players had been able to advance to the PGA Tour, or lose status at the end of 2020, his mid-season request was denied. It was April of 2021 and he was 52nd on the points list. There were 12 regular season events remaining. The denied medical request meant Truslow would lose his job at the end of the year if he fell outside the top-75.
“The lowest moment was learning that one: I needed surgery. And two: I wasn’t going to be able to keep the starts I was missing,” says Truslow. “It was a very overwhelming time.”
As he recovered from surgery, Truslow watched himself slide all the way to 85th of the points list by the end of the season. Time moved painfully.
Truslow began to practice again during the second half of 2022. His first event back was the Monday qualifier for the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. He was playing well at home and finally optimistic about his golf game. Truslow told his caddie if he somehow managed to qualify for the Sony Open, it would be the proudest moment of his career. He opened with a nervous bogey but didn’t make another mistake for the rest of the day. Six birdies and eleven pars later, he shot 67 and was playing in a PGA Tour event.
He wasn’t ready for a full week of competition and struggled in the tournament, but it was an encouraging first step. Truslow again successfully Monday qualified into the Valero Texas Open in April, but missed the cut.
Last week in Boynton Beach, Fla., Truslow qualified for the U.S. Open and is now at Los Angeles Country Club, preparing for success.
With his family, friends and fiancée by his side, Truslow has spent the past few days studying LACC and taking advantage of the perks that come from being a U.S. Open participant. He was picked up from a commercial flight on the airport runway by a BMW 750 Li and whisked away to the luxurious tournament grounds, where one of the first things he did was get a free haircut.
Truslow marveled at all the free swag being given to players: the bottles of California wines, the high-end scotch, the fine food in player dining, and access to exclusive clubs around Los Angeles with open bar tabs.
When Truslow went to schedule his first practice round, only Phil Mickelson’s name was listed on the tee sheet. Truslow considered adding his name next to Mickelson’s but he “didn’t want to be that guy.” Truslow played his first practice round by himself, admiring the course and the diversity of shots required.
“It’s one of the coolest golf courses I’ve ever seen,” says Truslow. “There aren’t many easy up-and-downs around the greens. Very diverse holes. You feel like you’re on the same course but there’s very different shots.”
He’s been pacing himself in the first half of the week. On Wednesday, he’ll play his practice round more like a competitive round, trying to make saves and shoot a score. Once Thursday arrives, Truslow will narrow his goals and focus on what he can control – his routine. He’s not sure how often he’ll chip one-handed. U.S. Open rough usually requires all the strength both hands can summon.
Truslow will consider the week a success if he can execute his routine with full commitment and stay as patient as possible. That’s easier said than done, especially in your first U.S. Open. But without patience, Truslow would have never made it here. Without commitment, he would have been driven into another profession.
"I would have not believed you if you told me a year ago I'd be in the Open," says Truslow. "Great things can happen when you least expect it, or lose hope altogether."
The one-handed maestro is no longer short-handed and this week, he’s reaching new heights.