Bull Makes Most Of First USGA Championship Event

LAKE FOREST, ILLINOIS | Albert Einstein, that plus-4 handicapper from Princeton, is credited with opining that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Illinois native Dennis Bull now can assure himself he is sane.
It took about nine tries – even Bull lost track of the exact number – but Bull finally qualified for a USGA championship.
Then he made the most of it. Bull, who grew up in Fairbury and stood out at Illinois State, advanced to the quarterfinals in last week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at Conway Farms Golf Club.
That’s a far cry from beating his head against the scoreboard, as he had over and over. The guy was a bridesmaid more often than Elizabeth Taylor’s best gal pal.
A financial analyst for Exelon Wind headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, Bull was making a career of scoring first alternate honors. First alternate means you sit by the phone and it doesn’t ring. It means you beat yourself up mentally playing over that one shot that could have been that much better.
Last year, Bull was first alternate for the U.S. Amateur from the sectional at Blue Top Ridge Golf Club in Iowa, missing qualifying by a stroke even with two birdies down the stretch. It was memorable, but it wasn’t the first time.
Bull might have thought it was all bull, coming up short this consistently, but he didn’t give up. He went back to the first tee.
This year, Bull finally succeeded, and showed up at Conway Farms with a pass to play and a purpose rather than hat in hand. He qualified with little trouble at 7-over 149, then won three matches before bumping into two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson, a buzz-saw with a drawl from Germantown, Tenn., who ended Bull’s dream of winning it all – and a likely invitation to next year’s Masters, which has gone to the Mid-Am champion since 1988 – by a 3-and-2 margin.
Bull also discovered what it was like to play in a USGA championship.
“The greens got progressively faster since the stroke play,” Bull said after beating Charlie Blanchard, of North Providence, R.I., in the round of 16. “And this (Tuesday) afternoon, especially, this is all you want.”
Not that Bull hadn’t played in a three-club wind before. Where he grew up, playing Pontiac Elks, Railside in Gibson City, and Indian Ridge at home in Fairbury, a town of about 3,900 a few miles southeast of Pontiac, there are some open holes where the wind whistles across the prairie for miles before finding the golf course. But add in the usual USGA conditions, from thick rough to precise pin placements, and you’re not at the Elks anymore.
“The wind was blowing 28-30 mph out there, the greens are probably running 13, and pins are on the corners,” Bull said. “This is a tough golf course.”
One selected to host next year’s BMW Championship, a title annexed by Rory McIlroy at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. There, the rough was not as thick, the fairways were wider, and until Sunday, the cup placements were not as severe. The PGA Tour wants birdies. The USGA wants to define the best player.
“There’s not any room for error,” Bull said. “I hit some shots I thought were pretty good. In fact, I thought they were
really good. But there’s a sneaky run-out on some of these greens.”
So welcome to the big time. For Bull, now the question is: How far does he want to take it? He played regularly in college, but after a brief flirtation with the mini-tour life, only sporadically until recently while digging into his career. But his Conway Farms success, which included an exemption into next year’s Mid-Amateur – no qualifying! – should change that.
“I’ve gotten back into it the last year and a half, and I enjoy it, especially at this, the highest level,” Bull said. “I worked for a couple of years, then went down to South Florida and played in a couple of events. It’s hard to do unless you have somebody sponsoring you. I had a great time, met some great people, and then I got a job offer from Exelon.”
Which was not forgotten during his Mid-Am stint.
“You’re taking time from work to come out here, and you hope you do well,” Bull said.
That makes complete sense. Even
Einstein would agree.


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