Local golf: Salisbury’s Frank Adams ready for U.S. Open
By Mike London
SALISBURY – Lots of kids daydream about making the last-second shot to claim the NBA championship or belting the home run that wins the World Series.
For Frank Adams III, the dream was different.
“When I was kid, the dream was making that winning putt at the Masters or the U.S. Open,” Adams said with a laugh.
Adams, a Salisbury resident, is a much better golfer than most, and while the affable, 37-year-old father of two is no longer a kid, he’s never stopped chasing that boyhood dream. On Monday, he played 36 quality, pressured-packed holes in Georgia, finished third in a sectional qualifier and punched his ticket to play in the upcoming U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania.
Monday’s venue was the Settindown Course at Ansley Country Club in Roswell. Adams, who shot a 69 to advance from local qualifying in Pinehurst, fired rounds of 66 and 71 and finished 7-under in the sectional.
Russ Adams, a younger brother and a former major league baseball player, caddied for Frank, who was on his game. He hit 32 of 36 greens in regulation.
“That place isn’t short and it’s not wide open either,” Adams said. “It’s a not a place where you can get up and down easily, and the greens were so firm and fast that you could three-putt in a hurry. Fortunately, I drove the ball really well. I avoided bogeys.”
On his way to that 66, the best score anyone posted in the first round, Adams teed off on No. 10 at 8:05 a.m.. He owned his first birdie a few minutes later.
“It was a par 5,” Adams said. “You’re supposed to birdie the par-5s, but it was a really good start.”
His third hole, No. 12, was where he realized it might be his day. That’s a monstrous par 3, 249 yards, and Adams hammered a 3-wood 15 feet from the pin and nailed the putt. He carded a 2 on a hole where there were a lot of 4s.
“I figured I picked up about a shot and a half on the field on that hole,” Adams said.
Adams’ second-round 71 in the afternoon wasn’t spectacular, but he stayed aggressive. He struck the ball just as well, but he had a couple of three-putt greens.
“The pins didn’t change for the second round, and I was hitting the ball so consistently that I was in almost the same place on the green both rounds,” Adams said. “On five or six holes, I had exactly the same putt I had in the first round.”
Adams learned the game in Laurinburg, as the oldest of three athletic brothers. Russ was two years younger than Frank, while Stewart was two years behind Russ.
“Dad would drop us off at the golf course at 7:30 and we’d play until 3:30,” Adams said. “It was competitive. If we had an extra dollar, we’d play for a Gatorade. Then at 3:30, he’d pick us up and we’d head to baseball practice.”
Frank stopped growing at 5-foot-7. His brothers eventually would zoom past him in stature.
“After I got to high school, my brothers kind of went by me,” Adams said.
Russ, a 6-footer, was the baseball player in the family. He starred at UNC, was a first-round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002 and was their starting shortstop by 2005. He played in 286 big league games.
Stewart was the largest Adams at 6-foot-2 and quite a college linebacker. He played at 235 pounds for Catawba in 2005 after transferring from Appalachian State.
Frank was outstanding in baseball and basketball at Laurinburg’s Scotland County High, but golf was his game. He headed to East Carolina to continue his education and his career.
He made two hole-in-ones in an eight-day span once. He won a tournament in Columbia, S.C., that was sponsored by the royal family of Morocco.
That led to a trip to Morocco where he won a tournament and also made a hole-in-one.
Back in the states, the following week, he knocked a 7-iron into the cup — on the fly — on No. 6 at Warrior Golf Club.
Adams has been making a living at golf since he turned pro in 2002, although he spent most of his time on third-tier tours that are gone now – the Tarheel Tour and the eGolf Tour. He’s won a number of tournaments, but even as the leading money winner on the eGolf Tour in 2015, he received a modest $58,385 for 14 events. That’s about what the 30th-place finisher earned at last weekend’s Memorial Tournament on the PGA Tour.
Adams currently is playing on the GPro Tour, and he’s the leading money winner this year with $11,485.65.
“It’s basically tournaments between Greensboro and Charlotte,” Adams said. “The guy running it does a super job, but it’s kind of like the Tarheel Tour was years ago. Events are two or three days. The money isn’t that big.”
Adams was competing in a GProTour Skins Match Tuesday and today at Old North State Club. The pot was $4,500.
“I’m hoping to catch a chunk of that Skins money to help pay some of the expenses to Oakmont,” Adams said. “Just trying to scratch out a living.”
Adams was married in 2012 to Allison Dupree, an educator, coach and a noted golfer who annually is a winner in the Labor Day Four-Ball Tournament. Adams’ father-in-law, Ed Dupree, is a Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Famer for his contributions to sportswriting as well as track and field.
Adams has added two young sons to his list of dependents. Frank IV, is 2 years old, while Andrew was born last December.
Adams was elated with how he played Monday and calls qualifying for the U.S. Open a thrill that ranks only behind getting married and the birth of his sons.
The U.S. Open is a true open, where the best in the country, pro or amateur, get their chance. Adams has tried to make the field for a long time. There were two previous years in which he made it through local qualifying but faltered at the sectional level.
“Both years I played in sectional qualifiers in Maryland, but one year it was 55 degrees and misting and the other time it was 98 degrees with 100 percent humidity,” Adams said. “I played in two extremes.”
He was in great position to make it one year, but he didn’t. That’s been one of his greatest disappointments.
“Fred Funk was playing in the group behind me, and he was a local hero on his home course with a 100-person gallery, and I just kind of gassed,” Adams said. “I made a double-bogey on a par 3 late, and I missed out.”
Adams experienced another setback last month when he shot 6-under 65 at Gaston Country Club in the Monday qualifier for the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I knew I had a chance and I sat around all day waiting for the scores to come in,” Adams said. “I missed being in a playoff by one stroke, and that took a lot out of me.”
Adams said he’d been struggling some lately, but then everything clicked for him in the U.S. Open qualifiers.
“Believe me, I’ve played great and not qualified for tournament, and it’s really easy for things to get out of whack,” Adams said. “The stars have to align perfectly for something like this to happen.”
The previous biggest event Adams qualified to play in was the 2012 Wells Fargo. That’s been his only PGA outing.
“That was at Quail Hollow, a very tough course,” Adams said. “That gives me some preparation for what it’s going to be like at Oakmont. The Wells Fargo is one of the biggest tournaments, other than the majors, and it was like a circus with all the people that were there.”
Adams knows his golf history, and he knows Oakmont Golf Club history, even though he’s never played a round of golf in Pennsylvania.
Oakmont is tree-less and there’s no water to deal with. But it’s one of the toughest courses on the planet because of the length, the bunkers and the treacherous, sloping greens.
“A lot of pros say Oakmont is the ideal test for the U.S. Open,” Adams said. “I remember watching the last one at Oakmont, when Angel Cabreara won in 2007. It’s such a long course that you really have to hit it, but it’s going to be even more critical to hit it straight.”
Oakmont is where Johnny Miller shot his surreal 63 in the 1973 U.S. Open. It’s also where Jack Nicklaus, who was 22, beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff in 1962 to win his first pro event. That was one of those changing-of-the-guard moments for golf.
The legendary Palmer has always been one of Adams’ heroes.
“I think he’s everyone’s favorite golfer,” Adams said. “I got to meet him once at a Masters practice round when I was 10 years old. I shook his hand about five times.”
Adams couldn’t sleep on Monday night, the adrenaline still pumping, and he turned on the TV. FOX was reviewing the days’ golf events, breaking down all the sectional qualifiers.
The math on display on the TV screen was a reminder to Adams of how unlikely his adventure is. There were 9,877 entries for the U.S. Open. About 1,000 golfers made it through the local qualifiers to the sectionals. Now Adams is part of an elite field of 156, including the top 50 players in the world.
“It’s all wonderful and it’s a thrill,” Adams said. “At least, it’s thrilling until you see all the bills. There are a lot of expenses, and places to stay up there are going fast.”
Allison and the boys will be going north, as well as Adams’ parents. Russ will be the caddie, as he is for all of Frank’s big events.
The U.S. Open is set for June 16-19.
The residents of Salisbury, which has become his second hometown, will be watching.
Adams knows he’ll feel jitters stepping on to the first tee, but he’s looking forward to his biggest moment in sports.
“I know I’ll have some butterflies,” Adams said. “But if I didn’t, I probably should be doing something else.”