Grace secures PGA Tour status

From pgatour.com

dBranden Grace laughed when it was mentioned that train tracks run along the 11th and 12th holes at TPC River Highlands.

“You had to point that out,” he said.

Like the ones at Chambers Bay they’re not in play. Despite hitting his tee shot out of bounds on the 16th hole Sunday and costing himself a chance to win the U.S. Open, Grace could at least laugh at himself.

If not for a fence, his ball might have gone across the tracks and into Puget Sound. He won’t have to worry about that this week at the Travelers Championship.

For one, the tracks at TPC River Highlands are on the left, not the right. For another, they’re much harder to hit because they’re even farther out of play.

Grace also doesn’t have to worry about his PGA TOUR card for next season. His tie for fourth last week took care of that.

“It was nice to get all the money and the points up to secure it,” he said. “I could just relax and play the golf that I know I can play.”

Despite finally securing a card on the PGA TOUR for the first time after failing to do so in the dozen starts he made the last couple of years in the U.S., the 27-year-old South African has had plenty of success on the world stage.

He turned pro in 2007 and the following year recorded three top 10s on the European Tour’s Challenge Tour. A year later he locked up his European Tour card through qualifying school.

Grace struggled his rookie year, missing 11 cuts in 26 starts, but the next season won for the first time as a pro, at the Coca-Cola Charity Championship on the Sunshine Tour. He had to go back to q-school to earn his card again for 2012 but went on to have a breakout season, winning four times on the European Tour.

Grace added two more victories, one at the end of 2014 and one earlier this year in Qatar, before playing his way into contention at Chambers Bay with rounds of 69-67 the first two days.

He entered Sunday’s final round a stroke back and was tied for the lead late in the day when he blocked his tee shot to the right on the drivable par-4 16th. Grace never bothered to retrieve the ball, and he never challenged the rest of the round.

Still, it was his best finish in three U.S. Open starts and his best result by far in the 13 majors he has played in his career.

Grace won’t decide until after the PGA Championship in August if he will play a full schedule on the PGA TOUR in 2015-16. It’s a nice problem to have.

He can also seek the advice of countrymen Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen, with whom he is sharing a house this week, when it comes to the delicate balance of juggling playing two tours.

“I think it’s going to be tough,” Grace said. “You just need to plan it well and come over here.

“I might come over here full-time next year and play a whole full season and see what it’s like and just go back (to Europe) for the bigger ones. That’s just all in the mind that I’m thinking of now.”

So, too, is what might have been on Sunday.

During a practice round at TPC River Highlands with Zach Johnson on Tuesday, Grace held his 3-wood in his hand and his mind turned back to Sunday at Chambers Bay and the 16th hole.

He can pick the brains of Els and Oosthuizen on that topic, too. Both are major champions.

“I still do (think about it),” he said. “I told Zach it was a straightforward tee shot.

“But there’s a lot of positives I got out of it, lots of stuff I secured, and that helps. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I’ve tasted it now and know what it’s all about now.”

And he won’t have to worry about any train tracks this week.

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