A total of 27 European Tour Members will assemble in New York State this week for the second Major Championship of the 2004 season, the US Open Championship at the marvellous but testing Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton.
The town may be named after the English coastal city but it is hoped that it will be The European Tour challenge which will truly set sail and produce celebrations to remember, such as were apparent in 2001 when Retief Goosen claimed his first Major at Southern Hills Country Club, beating Mark Brooks in an 18 hole play-off.
Goosen, who went on that year to top the Volvo Order of Merit and repeated the feat the following season, has been given one of the later start times on the opening day of this year’s Championship.
The South African will tee off at 1.30pm local time on Thursday in the company of Americans Charles Howell III and Justin Leonard, one of the many attractive three balls featuring the European Tour Members in action.
Current Number One on the Volvo Order of Merit, Ernie Els, winner in both 1994 and 1997, will begin his quest for a hat-trick of titles at 8.20am alongside Australia’s Robert Allenby and Chris DiMarco of the United States, while the winner of the season’s first Major, Phil Mickelson has Scotland’s Paul Lawrie and Kirk Triplett for company when he tees off 1.00pm.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia, brimming with confidence following his victory in the Buick Classic on Sunday, will start the US Open Championship among the favourites in the company of 2002 US PGA Champion Rich Beem and is fellow American Jonathan Byrd while the man Garcia beat in the play-off at Westchester Country Club, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, will tee off with another US PGA Champion, the 2001 winner David Toms and last year’s US Open runner-up Stephen Leaney of Australia.
Nick Faldo, who was forced to qualify for a Major Championship for the first time since 1976, is rewarded with a first round draw alongside Kenny Perry and last season’s US PGA Champion Shaun Micheel.
Due to the large number of European Tour participants in the event there are a couple of groupings which see two players paired together, the first seeing Denmark’s Thomas Björn and South Africa’s Trevor Immelman out with Brad Faxon, while Australia’s Peter Lonard and Lee Westwood of England partner Davis Love III.
One of the best performances in last year’s US Open Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois came from England’s Justin Rose, who tied for fifth place on his debut in the event. This year, the 23 year old will start his campaign in the company of Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin, the man who won the Championship the last time it was played at Shinnecock Hills, in 1995.
All competitors will find a course much like Muirfield in Scotland, the fairways are fescue lined and many are likely to have to endure a trip into one of the 150 bunkers at one point during their four rounds.
Similarly, as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club enjoys taking the Open Golf Championship to Muirfield, the USGA loves going to Shinnecock Hills for the U.S. Open as every competitor must hit fairways in order to hold the small greens. However, unlike Muirfield, Shinnecock, especially the back nine, enjoys rolling topography, which lends itself to a thrilling string of first rate golf holes.