The notion of European Tour sleepers at the U.S. Open would have had everyone laughing in the aisles for the last half of the 20th century, but times change and now any sensible gamer needs to consider the chances of overseas visitors.
Michael Campbell kicked it all off in 2005, lifting the trophy shortly after qualifying at the Walton Heath Sectional, which was then a bright and shiny new idea.
In subsequent years Kenneth Ferrie, Nick Dougherty, Niclas Fasth, Soren Hansen, Ross Fisher, Gregory Havret, Nicolas Colsaerts and Tyrrell Hatton would all have proved inspired top ten-earning sleeper picks.
Let’s take a look at who might join that list this week at Pebble Beach (all of these players are available at $7,000 or cheaper on Draft Kings).
His last 15 starts have reaped 13 cuts made and 11 of them were top 30s, but only one of them (T6 in the Oman Open) was a top ten. There, in a nutshell, you have the current state of his game. He’s good, his B game is chugging along, but where’s the A game? Missed the cut in his only previous U.S. Open, has two top tens from ten major starts.
Twelve months ago he was a 32-year-old Sunshine Tour journeyman, now he’s thriving in the majors. He’s collected wins in South Africa, in Asia and then on the European Tour to vault himself to a Masters debut in April where he finished T12, looking remarkably assured all week. A superb putter (15th Club have him very high in their Strokes Gained tables) and he can play in wind – he won the Qatar Masters and winners there are no fools in a blustery breeze.
Another South African making progress up the worldwide golfing ladder, but he’s doing it in a rather more controlled manner than Harding. He graduated from the Challenge Tour, has been mighty impressive on the European Tour, was T8 in the PGA Championship and T20 last week at Hamilton. A fine player by the British and Ireland seaside (T4 last year’s Irish Open then T17 at the Open).
Claimed European Tour win number five last month and looks to be back which means he will be a staple of many European Tour gaming teams, but should he be in this week? He had a late call up so may be rushed and jetlagged. More pertinently, perhaps, he is 9-for-19 majors with no top ten plus 1-for-4 in this event (T16 at Erin Hills).
He was T21 in the Masters and T12 at last year’s Open. Is that a hint of improved major performances or are they outliers after his strong start? He made two top tens in his first four major appearances, but then in his next 15? Not one top ten and only that one top 20. He’s also not made a top ten since January and his Masters effort is his only top 40.
The Englishman who slumped so badly after his Masters win in 2016 started making the right noises last summer, he claimed a win in the Fall, but early his year he seemed to regress. However he made the cut at Bethpage (T41 and a first weekend in the American majors since 2016) and has since gone T27 at Muirfield Village and T8 at Hamilton.
Confirmed his promise with victories on the European Tour in late 2017 and then again in late 2018, the latter at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship (blustery, by the sea of course). A semi-final at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play added to his CV. So did T21 at the Masters and T16 in the PGA Championship at Bethpage. Missed his last two cuts, but interesting.
The Thai golfer has never delivered his best at the majors (9-for-16, no top ten finish), but he’s in a great run at the World Golf Championships (four top five finishes in his last six starts). Two of the latter were on Poa Annua at the Mexico Championship, as was his best major finish (15th at Shinnecock this time last year). A winner on the Scottish seaside (Murcar Links), more recently T5 at Trinity Forest and T17 last time out in the Memorial.
Does links form matter or not this week? If you like it, you’ll like Fox who pegged a pair of fourth in the Irish and Scottish Open in 2017 and then went second-sixth at the same events last summer. He was T41 at Shinnecock last year and is 5-for-7 in the majors, but he’s yet to record a top 25 and has missed his last four weekends.
A winner by the seaside as an amateur (the Lytham Trophy) and now a European Tour winner (again by the seaside, at Hillside, in last month’s British Masters). The Swede is, by his own admission (when speaking to Rotoworld), a short but accurate hitter who enjoys a tough test from the tee. Of interest at his best, but he does have only two top 50 finishes in his last ten starts.
The Englishman has something of a habit of progressing through the qualifiers at the U.S. Open and duly did so again at Walton Heath and in some style (12-under). However he’s not made a solo top 30 since November last year and his habit of thriving in Sectionals is yet to translate into tournament success. He averages 75.00 per lap in the event and has missed two cuts.
The Norwegian knows all about playing Pebble Beach having won the 2018 U.S. Amateur Championship – kind of neat. This season he’s experienced the big time on three occasions. He missed the cut at Torrey Pines, was T40 at Bay Hill and T32 in the Masters.
He finished T56 in his championship debut last year, but that was off the back of some decent form and he cannot be said to have anything like that this season. Admittedly he was T9 last time out but that was the last 16 of the Belgian Knockout and his last genuine ET top ten was last season’s final event.
Ditched the GolfSixes after qualifying at Walton Heath and now, after 130 starts as a professional including victory in the 2017 Nordea Masters, the 22-year-old in his fifth full season on the European Tour makes his major championship debut. Has one top ten this season (T8 on the links at Hillside) and will astonish the galleries with his speed of play.
The Frenchman finished T25 last year in his championship debut, doing so off the back of a run of 1-for-6 (with the exception T64). Needs a similar bolt from the blue as he is on the run of 5-for-14 with a best of T24 back in January.
Missed his last three cuts and has made just one strokeplay top ten since the Italian Open in late 2017. That, however, was when T10 in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last Fall and he did show form in qualifying at Walton Heath. Made 12 major champions starts, has a best of T20 in the 2015 Open.
Another Walton Heath bolter. He started the season with T11 in the Mauritius Open but it is his only top 30 finish in 16 starts and he’s missed his last three cuts. Has broken 70 twice in his last 26 laps.
An American major championship debut for the South African journeyman who shot 77-74 to miss the cut in his only Open start way back in 2014. A top 20 would be a surprise because it is 26 European Tour appearances since he last did that.
His only previous major championship experience was a very poignant one for this Nice resident because his city had been hit by a terrorist attack the night before round one. His 10-under qualification at Walton Heath was something of a surprise because his two previous starts not only saw him miss the cut but post scores in the 80s both times. One thing in his favor: he likes playing in the wind. Excels at Al Mouj in the Oman Open, played well at 13th Beach in the Vic Open and practices a lot on a blustery course in Mauritius.
The English 28-year-old earned this opportunity via a Florida sectional and he earned his year on the Web.com Tour via the unlikely far east passage – the PGA Tour China. In fact a final day of the season 62 grabbed him that shot by a mere few hundred dollars. A Radford University grad he’s made three top 20s this second tier season.
Conclusion: Van Rooyen, Harding and Bjerregaard are respected. Willett and Aphibarnrat look interesting. Kinhult and Sordet the fliers.