Following a successful collegiate career at the University of Illinois, where he was a four-time All-American, and a promising start to his professional career, Charlie Danielson’s 2018 season was derailed by knee surgery last July.
A native of Osceola, Wis., Danielson qualified for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club as an amateur shortly after Illinois was eliminated in the NCAA national semifinals. He appeared in the 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship, as well as two web.com events and two tournaments on the PGA Tour Latin America.
Coming off a 2017 season where he finished 21st on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada’s Order of Merit, earning over $20,000 in only three starts, Danielson struggled with knee issues beginning in December of 2017.
Despite playing very little last season, Danielson appears to have regained his form as he carded a 6-under par 66 Monday at Chaska Town Course to earn medalist honors, looking to return to the national championship when it’s played June 13-16 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif.
“I made putts when I had to and stayed out of trouble for the most part,” Danielson said Monday. “If you hit it in the fairway on these par-5s and take care of the two drivable par-4s, that’s six birdie holes, and for the most part I took care of five of the six of those. I missed where I had to on the par-3s. It was a solid day.
“I had expectations of coming in, playing well and taking care of business, but at the same time I have to keep my priorities straight. Coming back from knee surgery, I’ve been out of competitive golf for a while. I’m starting to get back into it and I’m not 100 percent yet, but I’m playing well and my game is in good shape. I’m looking to continue to get stronger and rehab and I think that’s taken some pressure off my golf game.”
Also moving on to the next stage of qualifying with Danielson Monday was former University of Minnesota golfer Robert Bell, who posted a 4-under par 68, and by fellow Minnesotans Henry May and Alex Kline, who grabbed the final two spots by shooting rounds of 3-under par 69.
Beginning his round on the back nine Monday, Danielson two-putted for birdie at the par-5 15th and drove the green at the 319-yard 16th for a second straight birdie to turn at 2-under.
Danielson began the front nine with a pair of birdies before his only blemish came after a three-putt bogey at the fifth. He rebounded by carding three straight birdies on his final three holes to shoot 66.
“The past two years I’ve played in some PGA events, some [Web.com], some Canada and a couple in Europe, so I’ve bounced around and got some good experience and learned a lot,” Danielson said. “When I’ve been out, these last 12-14 months, it’s been a lot of managing my expectations, knowing what I need to work on and a lot of reflection.
“I can’t complain—I’m happy with this. I hope to build on the momentum, keep getting stronger and shoot some good scores. I have some tournaments coming up this summer and hopefully I can move on through sectionals and on to [Pebble Beach].”
Bell, from Pierz, Minn., moves on to sectional, qualifying for the second straight year after shooting 4-under par 68 a year ago at Troy Burne Golf Club.
On Monday, Bell got off to a hot start by carding four birdies over his opening eight holes. Dropping two shots with a pair of bogeys at the 12th and 14th holes, Bell answered by recording back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th to shoot 68 and earn the second qualifying spot.
Bell was a four-time letter winner with the Gophers, playing in 26 events from 2010 to 2013.
May fired a 5-under par 67 last June at Pioneer Creek Golf Club to earn medalist honors and a trip to his first USGA at the 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.
A senior at St. Thomas Academy, May qualifies for his second consecutive USGA championship despite a slow start Monday, taking bogeys at two of his first four holes to begin the round on the back nine.
“I was 2-over through five, so I was really freed up and was thinking whatever happens, happens. I didn’t really see myself being in position at that point in time,” he said.
After a quick stop in the clubhouse after carding birdie on three of his final four holes to finish his front nine to turn at 1-under, May saw his name near the top of the leaderboard and his mentality quickly changed.
“I had some nerves out there, but I was able to field those pretty well and maintain my focus. I knew I was in it and kept on rolling on the back nine. My putting was awesome today. I ended up lipping out for birdie on eight and nine so I thought that might’ve cost me, but otherwise I was making everything.”
A fortuitous bounce from the tee at the short par-4 third set up a perfect distance with a wedge for May, leading to a short birdie putt to put him at 2-under for the round. He would get up-and-down for birdie at the par-5 seventh to finish the tournament at 3-under and in a tie for third with Kline at 69.
“I knew I could qualify—I just had to go out and play my best.” May said Monday. “I played really bad in my high school events last week and right after school Friday and 27 holes on Saturday. On the range today I was hitting it awesome and on the putting green I was putting pretty well, so I just had to get on the course.
“The [U.S. Junior Amateur] was a good learning experience and I worked really hard over the winter with my trainer and coach and I feel like now when I shoot scores like this, it’s more what I’m actually capable of. I think I can play well and give myself a shot, but obviously it’s going to be really tough—it’s for the U.S. Open.”
Kline, from Minnetonka, Minn., moves on to the next stage of qualifying for the third time and first since he earned medalist honors at Minneapolis Golf Club in 2016. He moved on from local qualifying in 2014 at the Wilds Golf Club.
On Monday, Kline, who played in the same group as Bell, rolled in three birdies against one bogey over his opening nine to turn at 2-under and would play his final nine holes at 1-under to card a 69 to grab the final qualifying position.
Max Tylke, of Rosemount, Minn., and Minnesota Gopher Gus Minkin, from York, Pa., finished as first and second alternates, respectively.
View tournament results on www.mngolf.org.