by Lee Pace

While Butch Davis is honing his football team toward its Aug. 28 season opener against McNeese State ...

While Shalane Flanagan and 19 more athletes with Tar Heel roots are competing for Olympic gold in Beijing ...

While Carolina’s baseball juggernaut is churning out major league players like Tim Fedroff, who last week signed with the Cleveland Indians ...

Four more Tar Heels are quietly preparing to compete on the biggest stage in amateur golf, just 70 miles south of Chapel Hill.

Recent grad Reed Darsie, senior Barden Berry, sophomore Kevin O’Connell and incoming freshman recruit Jack Fields have qualified for the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, scheduled for Pinehurst Aug. 18-24.

A field of 312 players split between courses No. 2 and 4 will play 36 holes of qualifying on Monday and Tuesday. The low 64 players will advance to match play on course No. 2, the site of the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Amateurs. The 36-hole championship match will be played on Sunday, Aug. 24.

Fields grew up in nearby Southern Pines and has played the courses at Pinehurst frequently, particularly courses 1 and 5 as they were home courses for his high school team at Pinecrest High.

“Pinehurst has so much tradition,” says Fields, the recent winner of the North Carolina Amateur. “Any time you’re playing a course where they’ve had the U.S. Open, it’s a great experience. Playing out there is different than playing most courses. It’s a different experience.”

Fields and Darsie qualified for the Amateur at Pinewild Country Club July 28-29. Fields shot rounds of 65-74 to finish fourth, and Darsie posted 72-68 to finish fifth. Berry advanced by taking second at Walnut Creek Country Club in Goldsboro July 31-August 1 with rounds of 70-66. O’Connell earned his slot with a 64-69 performance Aug. 4-5 at Salisbury CC in Midlothian, Va.

“I’ve got some fond memories at Pinehurst,” says O’Connell, who advanced to the semifinals of the North and South Amateur at Pinehurst in July. “Hopefully I can keep that going in the Amateur.”

The presence of the Amateur in Pinehurst has certainly been much under the radar compared to the energy around the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens. Nonetheless, the opportunity to see the golf stars of tomorrow in a relaxed setting should not be overlooked.

There will be no gallery ropes during the competition, so spectators are free to follow players down the fairway. You’ve not seen long drives like the ones you’ll see at Pinehurst as young limberbacks rare back and take aim on the Donald Ross-designed No. 2 course and the Tom Fazio-designed No. 4 course.

“I am really interested to see what will happen,” No. 2 superintendent Paul Jett says. “There are more long-hitters in the Amateur field than the U.S. Open field. These kids can knock it out of sight. The winner, though, will be the guy who can dial it back and handle the greens on No. 2.”

No. 4 is a total redesign of an earlier Pinehurst course cobbled together over decades by Ross, Richard Tufts, Robert Trent Jones and Rees Jones. Fazio built a brand new course on the site of the older course, just as he did during the same 1997-99 design-construction period as his new course at UNC-Finley in Chapel Hill.

No. 2 will play much the same as it did for the ’05 Open, only slightly longer at 7,281 yards versus 7,214 three years ago. The fairways will be 23-25 yards wide, with three levels of graduated rough at 1.5 inches, 2.75 inches and 3.5 inches.

The biggest difference will be the speed of the greens. August is the worst time of year to play a competitive event at Pinehurst as the course is predicated on firm, fast putting surfaces. In the heat of a Southern summer, it’s impossible to get the greens quite as firm as they are in June, when the U.S. Open is played.

“It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s sticky, it’s wet,” Jett says. “This golf course isn’t quite going to be the one we’ve seen for the U.S. Open. It’s a little softer, a little slower.

“Players in the Amateur might be more inclined to take a chance at a pin, knowing the greens are a little softer and the ball won’t bounce quite as much. There’s a little more room for error. In the Open, if you miss the spot by a foot, the ball typically will roll off the green. In the Amateur, you’ll see some shots not hit exactly the way the player wanted, but it will turn out okay.”

This will be the ninth USGA event at Pinehurst and the second U.S. Amateur. The first was held in 1962 and was won by Labron Harris Jr., who edged Downing Gray Jr. in the championship match.

“We are very conscious of making the Amateur at Pinehurst to be like the Open at Pinehurst—the best championship experience of any of the great venues these championships go to,” Pinehurst President Don Padgett II says. “Contestants and spectators have come away from an Open at Pinehurst feeling like it was a special experience. We want them to have the same feeling at the Amateur.”

Tickets are available by clicking http://www.pinehurst.com/amateur-ticket.asp. Phone orders are taken at 910-235-8247. Daily badges are $15 and a season grounds badge is $50.