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CHAMPAIGN — The pressure of a U.S. Open wasn’t new for Nick Hardy.

The former Illinois men’s golfer finished 52nd in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay the summer after his freshman season with the Illini and qualified again in 2016 at Oakmont. And again in 2019 at Pebble Beach after turning pro.

Hardy was even familiar with this year’s U.S. Open course after playing the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., the summer before his senior year at Glenbrook North High School in the Chicago suburbs.

Still, last week’s major championship was different. Hardy wasn’t just playing and didn’t just make the cut. He was contending at the 122nd U.S. Open after a 2-under 68 in Friday’s second round had him tied atop the leaderboard for half the day.

How Hardy handled that situation is why he posted the best finish of his still young professional career. A tie for 14th netted the 26-year-old a $241,302 payday and matched his top performance last season at the Sony Open in Hawaii, albeit this time in a major.

“Obviously, I’ve never been in that position before — let alone in a major championship,” Hardy said during an appearance on Tuesday’s ‘SportsTalk,’ radio show on WDWS. “I definitely did a good job of it in the end, but I was proud of the way I handled the whole weekend. I felt like I did a very good job of handling my emotions and staying in the present the whole time.”

That is Hardy’s focus moving forward with his first full season on the PGA Tour after earning his card last August after a top 25 season finish on the Korn Ferry Tour. Hardy is set to play this week at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., and is focused on everything but the physical act of his golf swing heading into Thursday’s opening round.

“I think all of the physical attributes of my game have never been better in my career,” Hardy said. “As long as I control my emotional and mental aspects the way I’ve been doing, I think I’ll keep seeing good results.”

Hardy had to battle mental fatigue as much as physical fatigue during his four-day run at the U.S. Open. The setup at a U.S. Open course challenges both aspects.

“I think that’s the really the hard part — four days in a row of staying in the present and doing your best to handle emotions and fatigue,” Hardy said. “Especially mental fatigue, I think, is the most difficult part. I’m proud of the way I handled myself throughout. I obviously wish it was better, but I think this experience will really have me prepared well for the next time I’m in contention.”

Hardy said he considers himself more prepared at this juncture of the season than he was in late winter and early spring. The results even beyond tying for 14th at the U.S. Open bear that out. Hardy made the cut in just two of eight tournaments between Jan. 16 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and April 3 at the Valero Texas Open, and a tie for 28th at the Puerto Rico Open was his best finish.

Hardy has since made the cut in each of his last three tournaments, finishing tied for 21st at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April and tied for 35th at the RBC Canadian Open earlier this month in the final tuneup before the U.S. Open. He kept that streak going despite missing essentially the entire month of May with a wrist injury.

“I have the right mindset now,” Hardy said. “I’m confident. I really deeply believe in myself and my ability out there. Experience under your belt is key. I keep putting away these good tournaments, and eventually I’ll have a really good Sunday and I’ll be very pleased with a good finish at some point here.”

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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