Merion to be Jaco’s first major

Jaco van Zyl earned the right to tee it up at the US Open through the English qualifier at Walton Heath yesterday, marking the beginning of the 34-year-old’s major career.

 

“It’s great to be playing in my first Major,” he said. “I qualified earlier in the year for the US PGA but to get in this is fantastic. I’m just going to go and enjoy and not have any expectations.”

 

The ever-smiling Dainfern professional had every reason to show some teeth, because he shot a second-round 67 to cruise into a spot alongside Paul Casey. Simon Kahn led the 36-hole tournament with his seven-under-par total, with Casey and van Zyl one shot adrift.

 

Of the 94 entrants only 12 can earn spots at the US Open, making the event something of a 36-hole race. Van Zyl shot a final-round 64 to earn his Sunshine Tour card back in 2006 and has been good under pressure ever since. He rose to the occasion and carded rounds of 71, 67 to finish on six-under-par.

 

But Walton Heath is a different scene from Merion Golf Club, host of the 2013 US Open. The suburban Philadelphia course last hosted the US Open in 1981 and is the shortest course to host a major in eight years.

 

That’s good news for van Zyl, whose iron play is spectacular. Placement on the speedy greens will be crucial, and the 13 Sunshine Tour titles he holds stand testimony to his ability to compete.

 

At the top of the competition spectrum Webb Simpson looked to defend his title. He was well aware of the significance of Merion, and added: "I tell people all the time it is my favorite golf course in the world. What it demands out of the players is so different than most golf courses, and it seems like most golf courses now are evolving to be bombers paradise. Every par-4 is 500 yards, and you hit a driver on every hole. Merion's the opposite."

 

On the other end is van Zyl, looking to enjoy his first major. But there is a nagging feeling that the best is yet to come from this international journeyman, who is yet to clinch a European Tour title.

 

“I’ve had a great start to the season so far, with my two wins on the Sunshine Tour, and this might just be the year that it all comes together,” he said after his Telkom PGA Championship victory in February. Come the US Open on June 13th, we may find a very dark horse making headlines in the US.

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