One man owns 14 major championships, the other has never played in a PGA Tour event.
One man has more than $120 million in career earnings, the other is somewhere near $50,000.
One man is perhaps the most famous athlete in the world (population 7 billion), the other is perhaps the most famous golfer from McCook, Neb. (population 7,000).
But both are competing for their national championship this week at Merion outside Philadelphia. Both found Monday's downpour a good time to stop by the Nike trailer for an equipment tuneup.
Tiger Woods entered with an entourage. Brandon Crick was all by himself. The 25-year-old journeyman, who spent much of the past year caddying and cleaning carts, summoned the courage, extended his hand and introduced himself.
And for a few moments, the tournament favorite and the ultimate underdog stood together waiting on their clubs, watching TV as ESPN showed an interview with ... Tiger Woods.
That's how Brandon Crick's week started.
It continues this afternoon when, at 1:57 CDT (barring a weather delay), he tees off in the last group of the 113th U.S. Open.
Aside from Woods and Co., Crick has two daunting opponents. One is the golf course, which makes Heritage Hills back home look like a par-3 course. The second is the atmosphere surrounding the golf course. The pressure.
That's why the former Husker reached out his hand to his childhood hero. That's why Crick also introduced himself to Phil Mickelson at registration. Get the stars out of your eyes early.
“At the end of the day, they're playing the same golf course you are,” Crick said. “We're all even right now.”
He's right. And if Crick plays like he did at sectional qualifying in Memphis, Tenn., he might make the cut and cash the biggest check of his career.
But even if he shoots a pair of 80s, nobody will call his performance a failure. That's because the past three years have tested more than just his swing plane.
Crick turned pro in 2010, got a sponsor's exemption to the Cox Classic and made the cut, earning $2,655. It looked like a promising start.
He went to Phoenix that winter, played on a mini-tour, then hit the Dakotas Tour in the summer of 2011. Eleven tournaments, eight top-five finishes, $30,000. Not bad.
Then Crick's game deserted him. He wasted the next winter in the Carolinas, making just two cuts on another mini-tour. He came back to the Dakotas and had just one top-five finish. He couldn't find a fairway — or a decent paycheck.
His top sponsor, Mutual of Omaha, had supported him for two years. Crick was playing so poorly, he didn't even feel worthy to ask for an extension.
He knew he didn't want to give up. He also knew he couldn't keep going like this.
He moved back to Phoenix and moved in with a high school buddy. After finishing short in PGA Tour qualifying school last October, he quit competing and picked up two jobs, hoping to save enough cash to try the Dakotas Tour one more summer.
His first job was cleaning clubs and carts. His second was caddying at a different course, Whisper Rock, where several PGA Tour pros are regulars. Crick watched major champions Martin Kaymer and Geoff Ogilvy smash balls on the range. He found a couple hours each day to work on his own game. But rarely did he even play nine holes.
The 18-hole U.S. Open local qualifier in May was his second competitive round in eight months. Crick shot 69 at Shadow Ridge, tying for first. He moved on to Memphis, where 132 players — many of them PGA Tour veterans — were battling for nine U.S. Open spots. This is where the dream was supposed to die.
When Crick finished his 36th hole, he was 5 under. He had no idea if it was good enough until a Golf Channel reporter pulled him aside for an interview.
The emotions hit him fast. When Crick called Mom and Dad, he could barely get the words out. The next day, he was back at Firethorn in Lincoln, working in the bag room.
Saturday he landed in Philadelphia. He withstood the rain, welcomed his family — Mom and Dad drove 24 hours from McCook — even signed a few autographs. His practice-round partners included Stewart Cink, Jason Day and another regular at Whisper Rock, Kevin Streelman. I was a caddie there, Crick told him.
Now he's a peer.
Merion is like no course he's ever played, Crick said. Imagine a normal-sized fairway, cut it in half and surround it with 7-inch “gnarly” rough. That's what he sees standing on the tee boxes.
“It's going to be the biggest test of my life, for sure,” he said. “But it's doable. It's still a fair golf course. It's just really difficult, you know. It's a U.S. Open.”
It's the biggest tournament he's played since the 2010 Cox Classic, when the future looked pretty easy. Since then, Crick has made bogeys in Kannapolis, N.C., Sun City, Ariz., Fargo, N.D., and dozens of holes in between. He stuck it out.
“Now I'm here,” he said. “I have that chance to show 'em what I'm made of.”
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