While much of the talk about the US Open which tees off at Chambers Bay on Thursday is about how European golfers might have an advantage over their US counterparts because of the links-like layout of the course, at least one South African is licking his lips at the prospect of taking on the challenge.
Branden Grace plays out of arguably the toughest course in South Africa, The Links at Fancourt, and, to emphasise the advantage this can give him, he beat two two-time US Open champions in a play-off on that course just a week after his breakthrough European Tour victory, taking down his childhood heroes Ernie Els and Retief Goosen to win the 2012 Volvo Champions.
Eight months later, he underlined his liking for links golf when he took the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship played over Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and St Andrews. That victory was kick-started by an extraordinary opening 60 at Kingsbarns. His faultless round, which included 10 birdies and an eagle, was the lowest score in the history of the tournament and smashed the course record at Kingsbarns by two shots, beating Lee Westwood’s 62 in 2003 when he went on to win.
Speaking afterwards Grace said: “The course record at Kingsbarns is actually my first course record and it will definitely make Kingsbarns a special place for me in the future.”
He took more than two years to add to his European Tour title tally, winning the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, and following that in short order with the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in January this year.
He has since been trying to carve a niche for himself on the US PGA Tour, and his best performance there came in the RBC Heritage Championship where he had a share of seventh.
The chance to play the US Open on the kind of course that brought him two of his best victories is one that will have him a lot happier than the likes of, say, Charl Schwartzel, who took a swipe at Chambers Bay ahead of the tournament: “I think it’s a course that involves a hell of a lot of luck,” he said. “You don’t only win by luck of course; you need to hit good shots. But most guys aren’t of the mindset to be able to shoot the scores you’re going to see here and remain focused.”
That’s in stark contrast to what Grace will be feeling, as well as Schwartzel’s good friend Louis Oosthuizen. Said The European Tour website: “He might have been struggling with a neck injury in recent times, but Oosthuizen is back golfing this week and certainly worth keeping a close eye on. The sweet swinging South African’s last nine starts on The European Tour – a period stretching back to late summer last year – read thus: 15-6-14-6-7-2-6-19-5 with consistency and a silky smooth technique being the bedrock of his game. Oosthuizen, of course, won his only major so far in the 2010 Open Championship on the hallowed Old Course at St Andrews so isn’t averse to a linksy-style test.”
In the end, one explosive round like Grace can produce might be enough to give him a shot at major glory.