Grace to spearhead SA’s US Open challenge

Johannesburg – The South African charge at this week’s US Open will be led by the top-ranked Branden Grace, as Oakmont Country Club prepares to host the world’s golfing elite in the second Major of the year starting on Thursday.

Branden Grace. Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Branden Grace. Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Grace, ranked 12th in the world, comes into the event with two wins already this season. The first victory for Grace this year came in the European Tour’s Qatar Masters where he defended the title he won in 2015.

In mid-April Grace followed up with his maiden PGA Tour title with victory in the RBC Heritage. The 28-year-old will also be hoping to improve on his fourth place finish at the 2015 US Open where he was tied for the lead with three holes to go, before a wayward tee shot ended his title challenge.

The course is set-up in typical US Open fashion, meaning extremely difficult rough and lightning fast greens. Added to the difficulty are many blind tee shots into narrow fairways and an intimidating scattering of 210 penal bunkers throughout the course.

Grace, however, will be well-suited to a layout of this nature with his low-ball flight in addition to his long accurate driving. Perhaps the greatest asset in Grace’s armoury this week will be his putting.

Though streaky at times, when Grace is on-form with the flatstick he has the ability to outgun the best on the tour. More than likely it will be on the brutally difficult putting surfaces where the winner will be determined, and Grace has the chance to impress global audiences once again.

Never to be discounted in Major championships will be SA’s number-two Louis Oosthuizen. In 2015, Oosthuizen came close in the US Open and Open Championship with second place finishes.

At the Open at St Andrews, Oosthuizen came perilously close to winning as he was edged in a playoff to American Zach Johnson. Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open Champion, like Grace is extremely long off the tee and that will count in his favour.

But perhaps the greatest asset Oosthuizen, ranked 14th in the world, possesses is his attitude, with Major championships always proving the most mentally-draining tests in golf.

South Africa also have two double US Open champions in the field in veterans Ernie Els (1994, 1997) and Retief Goosen (2001, 2004). The debut Major win for Els in 1994 also came at Oakmont at just 24-years-old, but it would be fair to say The Big Easy is not the same golfer 22 years later.

Goosen, meanwhile, has had a refreshing return to form with two 12th-place finishes in his last two starts on the PGA Tour at the Players Championship in May and last week at the St Jude Classic.

Another potential contender from the Rainbow Nation will be 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel. Also long and straight off the tee, it will come down to how he performs on the greens with a putter that has misbehaved at times for Schwartzel this season – as he ranks 85th in the putting statistics.

Rounding out the SA challenge will be Thomas Aiken and Jaco van Zyl who will both be making their second appearance at the event. – African News Agency (ANA)

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