Branden’s big chance on tough Olympic Club layout

The Olympic Club in San Francisco is just the place for Branden Grace to turn on the afterburners and make 2012 categorically the year of the South African rookie.

His spot in this week’s US Open was confirmed as he began the week unchanged on the Official Golf World Rankings in 54th position and became the eighth South African in the field.

His incredible start to the year – two European Tour titles in consecutive weeks on home soil, and the victory in the Volvo China Open in April – makes him one of the dark horses on the course that has produced a surprise winner each of the four previous times the year’s second major was played there.

Big names have been the victims in each of the four shocks at Olympic Club: Jack Fleck rallied to catch Ben Hogan and beat him in a playoff in 1955; Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead on the back nine and fell to Billy Casper in a playoff in 1966; Scott Simpson reeled off three straight birdies late in the final round to beat Tom Watson in 1987; and Lee Janzen came from five shots behind to beat Payne Stewart in 1998.

He will have to be very straight and very precise on a course that is regarded as one of the most difficult that has been used for the US Open: ‘”What’s unique about this year is that you’ve got the first six holes that are beyond brutal,” USGA executive director Mike Davis told the Associated Press. ‘”They’re going to walk to the seventh tee and be two or three over and think, ‘I’ve got to catch up,’ when in reality, they don’t.”

If Grace has a vulnerability, it’s precisely that: He has reacted too impetuously to adversity, and it’s only since the advent of caddie Zach Rasego, who was on the bag when Louis Oosthuizen won the Open in 2010, that he has demonstrated the maturity to ride with the punches that golf will inevitably dish out.

He has played in one major before: He appeared in the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, finishing in a tie for 43rd after rounds of 67-72-73-75 on the Ailsa Course as Stewart Cink beat Tom Watson in an emotional playoff.

That he has the game is beyond doubt – and he can make a quantum leap at Olympic. “What a week it’s going to be, I just can’t wait to get out there!” he said.

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