Branden Grace is one of seven European Tour Members making their US Open debuts at the Olympic Club this week and, given the South African’s form so far this season, it would be little surprise if he were to make the biggest impression.
Grace has been joined in San Francisco by fellow rookies Matthew Baldwin, Grégory Bourdy, George Coetzee, Peter Lawrie, Lee Slattery and Marc Warren, all of whom emerged from last month’s US Open Championship Qualifier clutching one of the 156 golden tickets available for the second Major of the season.
But Grace’s place in the elite contest was only confirmed at the end of last week, when the United States Golf Association (USGA) handed him and American Spencer Levin starting berths as the only two players in the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking not otherwise exempt.
Thus, the big-hitting 24 year old spent the weekend packing his bags for California, where he is bidding to build on the momentum created by his three victories on The 2012 European Tour International Schedule, and also to enhance his burgeoning reputation.
Grace said: “I would’ve been gutted if I didn’t get in, but now that I’m here I’m absolutely chuffed. After [the BMW PGA Championship at] Wentworth I was pretty confident of getting in, because I knew it was very unlikely that I’d drop six spots in the World Ranking and fall outside the top 60.
“But it was great to have it confirmed in black and white, so I’m really excited to play my first one and I can’t wait to get started now. It’s been an unbelievable season so far, and this week is a very nice reward for how well I’ve played. Hopefully I can have another good week and break into the top 50 of the World.”
If Grace is to achieve his lofty ambitions, he will have to master the ultra-demanding Lakes Course, which has been described in various terms ranging from terrifying to treacherous.
Having played a practice round in the company of his friends and compatriots Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel – both Major Champions – Grace was only too familiar with the dangers lurking at every turn. But if he is afraid of the challenge, the Pretorian certainly was not showing it.
He said: “I played the course for the first time yesterday, and I have to say it’s an absolute beast. But the US Open should be like that, because it’s the ultimate test. As always it depends on the weather, but I would imagine par won’t be too far away from winning.
“It’s very narrow out there and the rough is pretty brutal in places, so it’s a case of trying to limit the damage when you do the miss the green, and taking your chances when they come along. Accuracy off the tee is absolutely crucial, so I think I’ll be hitting lots of low drives this week to try to keep it in play. I’ve been practising that shot a lot, and I feel much more comfortably hitting it now.
“There are lots of dog-legs and you need to get to know the run-off points and where you can afford to miss, so it’s definitely one of those courses where you’re learning all the time. But I’ve coped pretty well with most of the challenges I’ve faced this season, and I’m confident this week will be the same.”