South Africa has sent nine players to the 2015 US Open, making it the third-highest contingent in terms of nationality. With only England and the United States providing more players, it’s an indication that it really does begin here on the Sunshine Tour.
Ernie Els leads the local boys into the fray at Chambers Bay, where he will look to become a three-time winner of the major. The Big Easy certainly enjoys the challenge, and this year’s venue is a real treat.
“My US Open record – with two wins and 10 top-10s, three in the last five years – always gives me optimism. Obviously my game needs to come around a little, but I’ve done that before in Majors. I’ve got a nice draw in the first two days, as well, in the company of two classy guys and former champions – Retief Goosen and Geoff Ogilvy,” he said.
Goosen, himself a two-time winner of the year’s second major, will bring his cool resolve to the party. His two major victories came at Southern Hills Country Club (2001) and Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (2004), with both venues having incredibly tough putting surfaces, much like this week.
The next wave of major champions from South Africa are Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oostuizen, the latter of whom has been struggling with neck injury.
Outside of his medical woes, Oosthuizen is a sure contender, so it remains to be seen whether that silky swing will be in action. If his 2010 Open Championship win at St. Andrews is anything to go by, then Oosthuizen’s affinity for links golf should come to the fore.
By contrast, Schwartzel relies on his exceptional iron play, and at a shotmakers’ course like Chamebrs Bay he may struggle. He hinted towards that idea on Wednesday.
“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.”
Next, and by no means any less of a contender, is Branden Grace. In terms of horses for courses he could well be the second-best man for the job, one spot behind world number one Rory McIlroy.
Grace plays out of The Links at Fancourt and won the Volvo Golf Champions there in 2012. Later that year he won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, beating the world’s best across Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and The Old Course. The five-time European Tour winner could well be the leading local at Chambers Bay this year.
Our latest European Tour champion, George Coetzee, will also tee up this week. The 28-year-old became a three-time winner across the pond when he lifted the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open trophy one month ago. He has always been able to produce sneaky shots when the time comes, and that could prove crucial this week.
Thomas Aiken, also a three-time winner on the European Tour, will make his debut at the US Open, but his form at previous Open Championships (two top-10s) hints towards what can be expected from the 31-year-old.
Garth Mulroy and Tjaart van der Walt are the final two South Africans in the field and they have something of a home-ground advantage, because both players reside in the United States. The pair came through regional qualifying and have both won summer events on the Sunshine Tour, which means they can perform on the big stage and are in good form heading into the week.
Nine South Africans at one major championship is a real turnout for the books. The wealth of numbers will surely result in some local faces on the leaderboard, but it remains to be seen just whom of these players will rise to the occasion.