13th June 2018 | Sunshine Tour
Oosthuizen leading South African in US Open
The last time the US Open was played at Shinnecock Hill in 2004, Retief Goosen won his second US Open title with a two-stroke edge over Phil Mickelson. He’s not there this year, but there are six South Africans who are.
Dean Burmester, Ernie Els, Dylan Frittelli, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel will fly the South African flag in the year’s second major, and they will be looking to emulate Goosen on a course where no-one is quite sure of what to expect.
Back in 2004, Els finished ninth, Tim Clark 13th, Nick Price 24th and Trevor Immelman 55th, while Rory Sabbatini missed the cut.
It was a tournament beset by controversy as the USGA allowed the turf to bake hard in the sun. The scorched green on the seventh became unplayable and had to be hand-watered intermittently, an unfortunate development that artificially changed the playing conditions from one group to the next. The players were nearly unanimous in blasting the set-up, but Goosen held his nerve, birdied the 16th hole and Mickelson double-bogeyed the par-3 17th.
Looking for inspiration beyond 2004, South Africa’s top three players – Oosthuizen, Grace and Schwartzel – have to go no further back than the 2015 edition of the US Open at Chambers Bay which was won by Jordan Spieth.
On the par-70 layout, Oosthuizen overcame a poor opening 77, compiling a closing three-under 67 to finish in a share of second. Grace and Schwartzel made it three top-10 finishes by South Africans – Grace’s final one-over 71 giving him a share of fourth and Schwartzel’s four-under 66 placing him seventh.
Those three players – as well as Els – are no strangers to the pressures of playing in the US Open, and they all have a good shot at being able to pull off the win if they bring their A-games. And there is every indication that all three of them have rounded nicely into form ahead of the tournament.
For Burmester and Frittelli, it’s a first taste of the major championship that prides itself on being the toughest of them all.
Frittelli will be playing his fourth major after making his debut in the Open and the PGA Championship last year, and in the Masters earlier this year. Being US-based, he might find conditions to his liking, and he will have a better sense of the traditions the tournament tries to maintain when it comes to the conditioning of the course.
Burmester, however, is playing in his first major, and, while he has the booming drive to contend with some of the big-hitters who are being touted as favourites this week, he will have to adapt very quickly to the tough conditions. The rough, in particular, will punish him if he’s wayward, and he will need to be patient on greens that will be faster than anything he has ever experienced.
South Africa’s contenders:
- Dean Burmester – world ranking 144, sixth-ranked South African player, first major, qualified through Sectional Qualifying at Walton Heath in England
- Ernie Els – world ranking 696, making 26th appearance in US Open, won US Open twice (1994, 1997), gained special invitation this year, T55 last year, most recent top 10 was T4 in 2013
- Dylan Frittelli – world ranking 62, fourth-ranked South African player, making first appearance in US Open and he will have played in all four majors now
- Branden Grace – world ranking 34, sixth appearance in US Open, best finish T4 in 2015 (also T5 in 2016)
- Louis Oosthuizen – world ranking 33, top-ranked South African player, ninth appearance in US Open (eighth if you don’t count his 2013 withdrawal), best finish T2 in 2015
- Charl Schwartzel – world ranking 44, 12th appearance in US Open, best finish of 7th in 2015