BY STEVE YINGLING
Nevada Appeal News Service
GENOA - Monday was one of those rare, warm spring days when the wind wasn't causing a problem in the Carson Valley.
The calm conditions left the Genoa Lakes Golf Club vulnerable for a change in the U.S. Open local qualifier. Taking advantage of the benign weather were several players very familiar with the 7,359-yard layout - including former Galena High School star Travis Whisman and ex-Wolf Pack player Carlos Concha.
"I've seen it calm, but more windy than calm," said Concha, one of three players to advance with a 69. "It was one less thing to focus on."
Whisman, three years removed from his UNLV playing career, tied Todd Killingsworth of Jacksonville, Fla., for medalist honors with a four-under 68.
Concha, whose round included five birdies and two bogeys, was part of a trio a stroke back. Jared Becher of Reno and Ryan Hallisey of Granite Bay, Calif., also shot 69s to keep alive their hopes of playing in next month's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego.
Whisman, once known as the "Whiz Kid' for his spectacular play in Northern Nevada as a young teen, set up some easy putts with precise approach shots. Four of his successful birdie putts were inside 10 feet and a fifth required a two-putt from 20 feet.
He stamped his sectional berth by scoring an eagle on his final hole - the 577-yard, par-5 ninth. A poor drive tested Whisman's nerves, but he executed a 256-yard four-wood shot, directing his ball within five feet of the pin. Whisman sank the eagle attempt to secure his first spot in sectionals in several years.
"I just struck the ball well and gave myself lots of opportunities," Whisman said.
Whisman is biding his time on the mini tours, waiting until he has the experience to make the jump to the Nationwide or PGA tours. At 26, he says his window of opportunity hasn't disappeared.
"People say I've struggled because I haven't made it on tour three years out of college, but I just don't look at it that way," Whisman said. "The average age getting on tour is 33 or 34. There are so many good players out there, it's so difficult to get through Q-School, and there aren't many options to move up in the ranks of golf. You just have to wait until you play well at the right time."
Concha made it through to sectionals with the same score that wasn't good enough a year ago. Last year, he was eliminated on the first hole of a three-person playoff when he missed a 30-inch putt.
"I don't know which way I missed it. I try to forget those kinds of things," Concha said. "Making some putts coming down the stretch felt good."
Killingsworth didn't regret returning to Genoa Lakes after claiming he'd never return after shooting 83 in a wintry qualifier in 2005.
"It was brutal that year. I just happened to be out here, so I came back," said Killingsworth, who holed a 25-yard bunker shot for eagle on No. 11 and birdied Nos. 1, 2, 5, 13 and 15. "I couldn't believe how good the weather was."
The five players who advanced to sectionals on Monday will play at a sectional venue on May 26 or June 2.
The U.S. Open has been within Whisman's grasp on several occasions. He scored one stroke too many as a 16-year-old in 1998 and a couple years ago he was two strokes from making it.
"I will always remember that," Whisman said of his attempt at 16. "I'm real comfortable of where I'm at, and I'm real excited about where I'm going."
Concha and Whisman are both planning to grind it out with PGA Tour players at the Columbus, Ohio, sectional on June 2.
"They have a lot more spots, so it gives me a better opportunity, as opposed to going somewhere closer where there are a lot less spots," Concha said. "I know I can hit the ball right with them. It all depends if I'm hot or not."
Former South Tahoe High golfer Dan D'Angelo made a respectable showing, finishing at 2-over 74. He made two birdie - a tap-in after a near ace on the par-3 eighth and an up-and-down from the green-side bunker on the par-5 17th.
D'Angelo missed a chance to birdie the first hole when a case of early round nerves sent a six-foot uphill putt awry. The 2004 STHS graduate was unable to roll in any putts outside of eight feet, keeping his score above par.
"I made everything inside five feet and didn't run any putts too far past, but nothing (else) went in," D'Angelo said.
But the 21-year-old D'Angelo was pleased his first effort at trying to qualify for the Open, and attributed his composed and solid play to caddie Steve Madison.
"I didn't hold any high expectations going into," he said. "I know where I've been playing. I knew if I got the putter going, I could definitely do it, but now I know where I need to practice."
Stephen Sear of Washoe Valley sank a 25-foot downhill putt to earn the first alternate spot. Sear, Carson High graduate Jonathan Cockerill and Aaron Briones of Isleton, Calif., each shot 70. John Chirila of Carson City also was in contention, carding a 1-under 71. Truckee's Patrick McLennan shot 73.