SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – With one look down the range Thursday morning at Shinnecock Hills, one would see a myriad of logos – equipment manufacturers, apparel brands, car companies, private jet services, fast food chains.
Then there was Mickey DeMorat, a 23-year-old Liberty University graduate making his pro debut at the U.S. Open – and wearing his college polo and belt buckle.
“I don’t have any sponsors,” DeMorat said.
He might after this week.
On a day when superstar names such as Rory McIlroy (80), Jason Day (79) and Jordan Spieth (78) likely played themselves out of the championship after 18 holes, DeMorat wasn’t shaken by the tough scoring conditions and is still in the mix after an opening 2-over 72.
“Not a bad way to start out my pro career,” DeMorat said.
For DeMorat, who also celebrated his birthday on Thursday, it’s a dream scenario.
Growing up in Merritt Island, Fla., he was home-schooled and competed on the golf team for Merritt Island High School. He began his college career at Eastern Florida State College, an NJCAA school, and earned All-American honors as a freshman. He then transferred to Liberty, where he played three seasons, was an All-Big South Conference selection each year and finished with a 72.28 career scoring average, the second-best mark in program history.
Only he never won in college. And he made it to just one U.S. Amateur, in 2016, missing the cut that year at Oakland Hills.
A U.S. Open berth? It seemed out of reach.
Until he won a playoff last week at the Rockville, Md., sectional qualifier, his fourth time playing sectionals. He turned pro shortly after and now he’s here, holding his own against the best in the world and on one of the toughest tests in major-championship golf.
“He’s always loved the game, did his own thing and works very hard at it,” said Mike DeMorat, Mickey’s dad and caddie this week. “But to play with the best in the world, it will definitely be a huge confidence booster.”
The DeMorats arrived at Shinnecock Hills on Saturday afternoon and by Monday night, Mickey had played 36 holes. He planned to play a practice round with Patrick Reed on Tuesday when he got some surprise news on the practice green: Spieth was joining, too.
“His eyes just lit up,” Mike DeMorat said.
Added Mickey: “I was the no-namer, but it gave me confidence playing with those guys and seeing that they hit shots the same way I do.”
On Thursday, he hit it better than both Spieth and Reed, who shot 73. DeMorat got off to a shaky start, bogeying two of his first three holes. But he rolled in an 8-footer for birdie at the par-4 ninth and after a bogey at the par-4 10th, got another birdie to drop, this time from 20 feet at the par-3 11th.
He bogeyed the par-4 13th, and then hit his tee ball right and into the fescue at the par-4 14th.
That’s when DeMorat’s round looked like it may fall apart. A marshal pointed to the wrong ball and DeMorat played it, but quickly discovered that his actual Titleist ball was still back in the rough.
“I should’ve identified it,” DeMorat said, shaking his head.
However, he didn’t panic. He took the two-shot penalty and ended up only carding a double bogey after sinking a 20-foot putt. He went on two birdie Nos. 15 and 16, and got in the clubhouse just three shots back of the morning leaders, Scott Piercy and Ian Poulter.
“You always wonder what it’s like at this high level,” DeMorat said. “You never really can tell how you’re going to stack up until you actually get out here and compete. And obviously I had a good day and I’ve got a lot of golf to play hopefully, but it’s just nice to be in this position after the first round.”
Not bad for a sponsorless 23-year-old making his pro debut. Perhaps someone with deep pockets will take note.