MADISON — In less than an hour on Tuesday at Gateway National Golf Links, 21-year-old Wes Hillen, of Columbia, experienced a multitude of emotions.
But in the end, the only one that mattered was the sheer joy that he had qualified for the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship.
Playing in hot, muggy conditions under intense pressure, Hillen fired an even par 71 to finish with a 36-hole total of 143 to tie for second during local qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship.
The 1-over par 143 total deadlocked Hillen with veteran Ted Moloney, of St. Louis. The pair were three strokes behind medalist Kyle Weldon, a native of west St. Louis County. All three earneda spot in the USGA's top championship.
The U.S. Amateur Championship will be held Aug. 13-19 at Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo.
For Hillen, who will begin his senior year at Millikin University next month, the USGA National Tournament will be the second in less then two weeks. Hillen recently played in the U.S. Public Links Championship in Utah. He lost in the first round of match play.
"I'd have to say this one means more because its the U.S. Amateur. It's the biggest amateur tournament in the world,'' Hillen said. "Also, it means a lot because a lot of these guys out here are playing or have played Division I golf and I'm playing at a Division III school.
"It makes me proud. The Public Links and now this U.S. Amateur are the first two USGA national events I had tried to qualify for. I'm off to a good start.''
Weldon, who will be a sophomore at Kansas State University, shot a 71 to finish at 2-under par 140, three strokes better then both Moloney and Hillen.
The 2012 U.S. Amateur Championship will be the first time qualifying for Hillen, Weldon and Moloney.
"It feels great,'' Weldon said after walking off the 18th green. "I felt like today if I could come out and just hit good golf shots and not make any major mistakes, that I could qualify. I was able to make a couple of early birdies and they kind of calmed my nerves a little bit. It was just a very good steady round today.''
Wils Hawn, of Waterloo, the first-round leader with a 3-under 68 on Monday, struggled to a 76 to finish in a tie for fourth place, one shot out of a playoff.
"It just wasn't my day. Everybody has days where you struggle," Hawn said.
Former Edwardsville player Brent Holmes also shot 76 to finish at 145, while another Edwardsville High School player, Devlin Keenoy, was in a large group of players who finished at 147.
Hillen, who had to wait about an hour as the final four groups finished their rounds, spent the time with family members gathered around the scoreboard.
Weighing heavily on Hillen was a three-putt green he had endured on the 550-yard par 5 18th hole.
On the green in two, Hillen missed his 42-foot eagle putt, then missed a 6-foot birdie putt before tapping in for his par and an even par 71.
"I played good, solid golf all day, but I didn't have a good feeling when I walked off the 18th green, and then while I waited for the final scores to come in. I was worried that 3-putt green was going to cost me and that I wouldn't get in,'' Hillen said. "I was just very happy -- and relieved -- when I made it.''
Other metro-east players competing at Gateway National on Tuesday included Matt Muckensturm, of Belleville, who fired a solid round of 73 to finish at 149, while Torrey Welsch, of Belleville, shot 82 to finish with a 36-hole total of 158.
All in all, 26 of the 83-player field shot opening rounds of 76 or better to advance to the final round on Tuesday.
Contract reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com.