The stage is set. The South Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California is ready to welcome 150 of the world’s best golfers for the 121st edition of the US Open, including nine South Africans.
Louis Oosthuizen, playing in his 50th Major this week, leads a strong SA contingent and here’s hoping he goes one better than his runner-up finish behind Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship last month. Louis is currently on a run of 13 made cuts in Major championships and has time and time again proven himself to be a player for the big occasion. Louis currently leads the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting, so a hot driver on a course set-up where accuracy off the tee is imperative could lead to another favourable result for King Louis.
Fresh off victory in his first non-Major start on the PGA Tour, Garrick Higgo finds himself as the second-highest ranked South African in the world. After making the cut in his Major championship debut at the PGA Championship, Higgo will look to continue his wildly impressive run of form. After a whirlwind three months that also includes two wins on the European Tour, fatigue may be the only factor that needs to be taken into consideration this week from one of world golf’s breakout stars in 2021.
Driving distance has been a hot topic in golf for a number of years, so it comes as no surprise that Wilco Nienaber was the talk of the town at last week’s Palmetto Championship. Nienaber gets his first Major start courtesy of his premier ranking on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, which he earned after claiming his first professional win at the recent Dimension Data Pro-Am. There is no doubt that the young man from Bloemfontein has an extremely bright future ahead of him and while there is bound to be a lot of interest in how far he hits the ball, just like last year’s US Open champion, Bryson DeChambeau, young Wilco has more than one string to his bow.
Despite falling off the pace in the final round of the PGA Championship, both Branden Grace and Christiaan Bezuidenhout are trending in the right direction with several consistent performances in tournaments around the world in the last year or so. Winners of the last two South African Opens, at Randpark Golf Club and Gary Player Country Club, respectively, both players have the game for the biggest stages in golf. Not being the longest hitters off the tee, both Grace and Bezuidenhout will place a premium on hitting a high percentage of fairways in order to tackle all 7,698 yards at Torrey Pines.
Charl Schwartzel is another South African whose game is trending in the right direction. The past Masters champion has had his fair share of injury concerns in the past few years, so it has been extremely pleasing to see the man with one of the most classic swings in the game string together a run of excellent performances, most notably at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the AT&T Byron Nelson.
Two South Africans that tend to fly under the radar but are world-class golfers in their own right, are Erik van Rooyen and Dylan Fritteli. Based on the high standards they both set for themselves, both Van Rooyen and Fritelli would agree that 2021 has fallen short of their own expectations so far. With a combined four top-10 finishes in the 2021 PGA Tour season, Fritelli will want to find the form gave him a T-5 finish at the Masters in 2020 while Van Rooyen looks to build on his T-10 performance last week at Congaree.
The final South African golfer teeing it up on the South Course at Torrey Pines needs no introduction although he has been quiet of late. Thomas Aiken played his way into this year’s US Open courtesy of sectional qualifying and will be playing in the first group off the 10th tee on Thursday. Due to non-golf related circumstances beyond his control keeping him away from the course, it is extremely pleasing to see Aiken playing in a Major championship again, something he hasn’t experienced since 2017.
Here’s hoping one of these nine South African boys can add their name to a trophy that sports those of World Golf Hall of Famers and illustrious fellow countrymen: Gary Player, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
© Agence France-Presse