The dream goes on for Jon Rusk.
The Washington Crossing native, who won the 1997 Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association State Championship while at Council Rock High School, got a taste of a high level of professional golf last year.
After playing recent years on several mini-tours Rusk earned a berth on the Nationwide Tour, a step below the PGA Tour, making 5 cuts in 18 events playing alongside familiar if not household names such as Jason Gore, Chris Couch, Camilo Villegas and Bill Haas.
While the many fellow competitors earned PGA Tour berths for 2006, Rusk’s 177th place on the money list required a trip back to PGA Tour Qualifying School, and unlike the year before where he got to the finals to earn Nationwide Tour privileges, this time he came up short.
“It was a learning experience, the Nationwide Tour has a strong mixture of guys with PGA Tour experience as well as up and coming players,” said Rusk after a practice round Tuesday. Right now he’s a man without a Tour, playing here and there and working on his game with an eye toward the future.
Couch won a PGA Tour event earlier this year after playing the Nationwide Tour last year, while Jason Gore won three times last year and is playing with the big guys this time around. The typical Nationwide Tour event features at least 15 players who have won a PGA Tour event.
“When I look back and assess my game against others, I can see some areas where improvement is needed, and I’ve been working on those areas,” said Rusk, who has always hit a long ball but sometimes struggles on the putting green. “Some days it’s all there, and I build on that.”
It was all there Monday at the Golf Club at Glen Mills. There, playing in local qualifying for the United States Open, Rusk tied for 3rd with an even-par 71. He advances to 36-holes of Sectional Qualifying June 5 at Canoebrook in Summit, N.J.
“I’m two good rounds away from the Open,” said Rusk in a telephone conversation. “I had a good day at Glen Mills, and I’m looking forward to Canoebrook. I’ve played there once before, and Gary Roberts (Yardley C.C. member) knows some members up there and hopes to get me a couple practice rounds before sectionals.”
Rusk is seeking to become the first player from Lower Bucks County to earn a berth in the Open since Richboro’s Duke Delcher played in the 1994 event at Oakmont. Bishop Egan graduate Mike Laudien advanced to sectionals three times since 1995, falling 3 shots shy of qualifying in 1994.
“It’s a difficult road but I am still in the thick of it,” said Rusk, who will be playing the Gateway Tour this summer, with his first event the weekend following his sectional play. “I feel good about things. I was hurt (injured ligaments two months ago when he hit a root with his downswing) and had to take some time off. But that actually helped me, I’ve spent some time with a sports psychologist talking about my putting. That’s an area I need to improve.”
Last year Rusk was 8th on the Nationwide Tour in driving distance (309.6 yards per drive) but was 133rd in putting. That led to his 177th place finish on the money list and return trip to the qualifying school.
“I am putting well, I’ve developed some confidence in my stroke, and that corrects a lot of problems,” said Rusk with a laugh. “Strong putting can fix mistakes. I think having the month off and working on the mental aspects of my game as helped. At this point it’s one step at a time.”
Rusk took a big step Monday at Glen Mills and is looking forward to the next one at sectionals.
After that it’s one step at a time.