Matt Cooper

Across the Pond

print article archives RSS

US Open European Sleepers

Monday, June 12, 2017


There was no hanging around when the US Open European Sectional Qualifying event was introduced at Walton Heath in 2005. It didn’t take years for the qualifiers to make an impact, it needed only a couple of weeks, as Michael Campbell, who initially needed persuading to play, completed victory in the Championship itself at Pinehurst.
 
The winners dried up immediately, but the European qualifiers have continued to play a big part in the narrative of US Open week.

Editor’s Note: This is the perfect week to try out FanDuel Golf and find out why it makes the majors even more exciting. First Place in FanDuel's $250,000 PGA Golden Eagle contest wins $50,000! Play now for $4.

 
In 2006 the unlikely man tied for the lead alongside Phil Mickelson at 54 holes was Kenneth Ferrie, 12 months later Nick Dougherty was the 18-hole leader at Oakmont, and in 2010 Gregory Havret found himself needing to hole an eight-foot putt on the final green to force a play-off with Graeme McDowell (alas, he missed it and remains a footnote in major championship golf history).
 
There have been others who featured on the leaderboard, even briefly, or simply boosted reputations with a good backstory.  
 
Johan Edfors’ explosive long game and dodgy putting inspired the (possibly apocryphal) line, “Looks like Jesus, putts like Mary.” 
 
Whilst Robert Rock’s appearance in 2011 was so last minute it apparently cost him $9,000 in flights and fast track visas, plus $1,000 for a cab ride from Newark to Congressional. He then refused an offer of $20,000 to wear a logo’d cap, preferring to let his famed full head of hair run free instead.
 
Not all of the players discussed below made progress to Erin Hills via Walton Heath, but which of this year’s crop of European sleepers will thrive on the leaderboard? And which might generate a story or two?
 
Ranked 191st in the FedEx Cup it’s not been the season Beef would have hoped for, but whilst he’ll want more, he’s also not the type to dwell on it. He’s very much the sort to initiate change rather than hang around and hope. So it will be interesting to watch the next few weeks of action after his return to the UK to play the BMW PGA Championship, rest and recuperate. It says much that he qualified in some style, with a hole-in-one and an eagle. He loves this event and recognises that playing it last year made a vast difference to his life. He was only T54 at Oakmont, but he played a superb second round 69 to make the cut and added to his cult hero status. If Erin Hills is any sort of links test, his T8 at Royal Troon last year bears up well; if it’s windy, his good form at Doha reads nicely; and if hitting out of thick rough and utilising a smart gameplan matters, his win at Valderrama is worthy of note. More than anything, though, he knows how to ride a gallery wave.
 
Sports psychologists look away now. In his pre-defense-of-the-Masters press conference, the Englishman said of his form since claiming the Green Jacket in 2016: “It's difficult. Like I was saying earlier, you've achieved the greatest height in your game. You have got to the pinnacle. You've climbed Everest and you've put your flag in. Unfortunately, you've got to either climb down or stay up there, and it's incredibly difficult to stay up there all the time.” Hmm. That sound you can hear is the David Duval klaxon. Willett missed the cut with a 78 at Augusta. A week later he missed the cut at The Heritage with another 78. A round one 79 was enough for him at Sawgrass (WD). He failed to break par at Wentworth. He’s lost form, his caddie and his mojo. A US Open is probably not what the doctor ordered.
 
Alexander Levy
The Californian-born, Florida-based Frenchman knows how to win, having claimed four European Tour titles in 117 starts. He also knows how to go low, but that might – Johnny Miller-style heroics notwithstanding – be a potential problem for his hopes this week because he’s thrashed a round of 63 or lower in each of those four wins. In other words, he’s a fine player in low-scoring conditions, which he’s unlikely to find at Erin Hills. All that said his tournament debut at Chambers Bay in 2015 was quietly impressive as he chalked up rounds of 70-69-73-73 to finish T27, ranking fourth for Scrambling and first for Putts per Round. If he hits the leaderboard expect big smiles, a lot of Gallic shoulder expressions and an utterly uninhibited swing when he fancies his chances.
 
The Irishman qualified for his fourth major start, and first outside the UK, on the first extra hole in a seven-man play-off at Walton Heath. He’s twice missed the cut in The Open, but the one time he played the weekend he led on Sunday night. Alas for him the finish was delayed so he returned to The Old Course in St Andrews on Monday morning and unfortunately, in a pulsating final round, could only manage 78. He recently came mighty close to a first European Tour title, playing calmly when in the final group at the Trophee Hassan II. He birdied the 72nd hole to draw level with Edoardo Molinari but lost out to the Italian in the play-off.
 
Currently best-known for his extraordinary round one 58 in last year’s Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.com Tour, it was sometimes overlooked that he was good enough to complete the victory. Moreover he has pegged another two wins on that circuit in his last three starts. First played the game as a 12-year-old having been reluctant to join his much more enthusiastic sister at the local club, but when he did start took to it immediately. Shot 74-80 to miss the cut on his US Open debut in 2015. Played the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills, making the second round. Inevitably inspires Jaegermeister and Jaegerbomb headlines.
 
The Welsh 43-year-old first played major championship golf back in 1998, when missing the cut in The Open, but last year’s T79 in the PGA Championship was his first appearance in the big ones since 2010. In truth his record is not so hot, with a best result of T27 and a log book of only 4-for-11. He’s a two-time winner on the European Tour and holds a rather unusual record. In the 21st century only Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel and which other golfer have multiple wins by 8 strokes or more? Yup, Dredge is the other man. 
 
There was more than an element of redemption when the Scot finally earned himself a second appearance in the US Open, ten years after he first played as the then reigning US Amateur champion. He came very close six years ago, but missed out in sitcom-style. He scored 4-under at Walton Heath, thought it wouldn’t be good enough, left the course to catch a flight to the wedding of his friend (and then fellow Tour pro) Gareth Maybin, missed the flight, got a call to say he was in a play-off, got stuck in traffic, and finally arrived too late to compete. “An awful, awful day,” he sighed. Made his last four cuts, but yet to crack the top ten this term and last did so in the Scottish Open last July.
 
Like Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey, Rai plays his golf with a pair of leather mitts rather than just the one. He’s a Challenge Tour performer who held three end-of-round leads on that circuit in 2016, his first at the level, hinting at his quality. Impressively he has kicked on, claiming the Kenya Open (watched by his mother, who is Kenyan) and then the Andalucia Match Play 9 already this year. He also impressed when finishing T7 in the European Tour’s Joburg Open. Played for the same Junior County team as major winners Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam (Shropshire and Herefordshire). Claimed his major championship debut with a scintillating display, a second round 64 at Walton Heath giving him a 14-under total and a one shot victory.
 
The 26-year-old Englishman is a very popular tweeter and blogger, with unusual opinions and trains of thought (for a golfer), but he’s no mug on the course either, even if he has had struggles in the last year and a half. His first three seasons on the European Tour were solid, and he came closest to a maiden victory when making a play-off in the 2015 Irish Open at Royal County Down (links course; take note if you believe Erin Hills will genuinely play like a links layout). A spell of 2-for-16 at the end of 2016 and early this year meant he first had to return to Q School and then found himself floundering in this year’s rankings. Made his last three cuts, including T8 in the Nordea Masters. Led the 2015 Open Championship when exiting the 16th green in round two. Then hit the hotel with his tee shot on 17.
 
Every major championship should have a golfer in the field who has made a remarkable journey over the previous 18 months and this year Wallace is definitely one of them. Early last season (between February and March) Wallace claimed five titles on the Alps Tour, the third tier of European golf. That earned him graduation to the Challenge Tour and, with it, came entry to last month’s European Tour co-sanctioned Open de Portugal. He opened the week with a 63, snatched the lead, and never let go of it. When he progressed to his major championship debut at Walton Heath he had completed the journey, from a golfer who was doubting his ability to cut the mustard on the third tier two years ago, to entry in one of the sport’s three great events.
 
Joel Stalter
Once France’s highest ranked amateur, the 24-year-old Stalter turned pro with a Nike contract and became a stablemate of Brooks Koepka. However the paid ranks were not as simple as he might have expected and it took him two and a half years on the Challenge Tour to graduate to the main stage – even then it came after a nervous wait to see if he grabbed the final spot in the rankings. Life as a rookie has been tough. He started the season in style with three top 25 finishes, but since then is 2-for-9 and the nearest thing to form was qualifying at Walton Heath. Claimed five titles whilst at the University of California.
 
The 43-year-old’s career peaked ten years ago when he ended the 2007 PGA Tour season with victory in the Ginn sur Mer Classic and weeks later bagged the Mercedes Benz Championship, losing a play-off to Aaron Baddeley in the European Tour’s Mastercard Masters in between. Since then he has returned to the Web.com Tour, tried the European Tour, played also in Asia and Australia, but the glory days elude him. There have been three top tens this season in lower levels. However he last made the top ten on the PGA or European Tours when T9 in the 2009 John Deere Classic.
 
Gregory is English, but one droll Tweeter noted that this particular Scott, paired with Martin Laird and Russell Knox, might still have the most Scottish accent in their round one and two three-ball (Laird's and Knox's are famously mid-Atlantic). The 22-year-old won the British Amateur Championship last summer earning himself three major starts. The first two have both resulted in missed cuts, but have not been without a few rays of sunshine. In The Open he was 4-under-par through ten holes and high on the leaderboard before dropping 11 shots on his return to the clubhouse. And 82-75 log book at Augusta National hurt, but he did notch an eagle-3 at the second hole on Friday.
  



Email :Matt Cooper



Highest Searched Golfers over the last 7 days



Video Center

  •  
    Boyer: Hot Hitters

    Boyer: Hot Hitters
  •  
    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings

    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings
  •  
    Boyer: Hot Hitters

    Boyer: Hot Hitters
  •  
    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings

    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings
  •  
    Boyer: Hot Hitters

    Boyer: Hot Hitters
  •  
    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings

    Jesse: MLB Power Rankings
  •  
    Boyer: Hot Hitters

    Boyer: Hot Hitters
  •  
    Short: Waiver Wire

    Short: Waiver Wire