George Coetzee, Charl Schwartzel and Tim Clark are well placed to mount another South African Major challenge with solid opening rounds at the US Open in Pennsylvania.
Schwartzel, 2011 Masters Champion shot a level par 70 a score matched by Clark, with Coetzee a further shot back – the trio well positioned with Merion’s East Course not giving away as many birdies as many anticipated following the heavy rain over the last few days.
“It's a lot tougher than what they say it is,” said Schwartzel. “There's a lot of holes that are very penalizing. I missed two fairways and had a sand wedge on. All three bogeys came from missing the fairway.
“It’s tough. But with this being soft, there's not much luck involved. You need to hit quality shots.”
Coetzee agreed. “I never knew where the guys got those 62 numbers and all that stuff, because the rough is brutal, the fairways are hard. It actually plays very long with how wet it is. It's kind of what you want in a US Open. It's tough. You've got to drive it well and hit it straight.”
South Africans have an impressive record in recent Major Championships with the likes of Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Schwartzel all winning golf’s greatest prizes but it is the reigning Open Champion Ernie Els, winner of two US Opens, who has been the inspiration for Coetzee.
“I remember his first US Open win (in 1994) because that's the reason I wanted to play golf,” said the 27 year old. “I thought tennis was the main sport and that's where all the money was. Then what did he just do? What's going on there? I want to be like that. And he ended up winning the US Open. He's always been kind of a role model.”