Return to Shinnecock Hills: will it provide a breakthrough for southern African elite golfers?

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By Robson Sharuko

Harare - The last time the US Open golf tournament was held at the Shinnecock Hills on the American eastern seaboard of New York, a Southern African golfer, Retief Goosen, powered to glory with a two-stroke victory over American star Phil Mickelson in 2004 in a battle that provided a thriller on the final day.

The South African golfer took home US$1.125 million and underlined his liking of the US Open after having been triumphant, two years earlier, at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after edging another American golfer, Mark Brooks, in a play-off for a winners’ cheque of US$900,000.

Since then, a lot has changed.

It has been 21 Major golf tournaments, spread over six years since a golfer from this part of the world won one of the four tournaments that define greatness in this game.

Ernie Els, the legendary South African golfer with four majors under his belt, was the last of the Southern African golfers to win one of the four Major golf tournaments when he captured the British Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes in England in July 2012.

Southern African golfers have a rich tradition in Major golf tournaments but this lengthy drought, without a victory, has left many golf fans worried although each tournament brings with it hope that one of their star players will strike gold this time around.

Maybe, a return to the links of Shinnecock Hills, where one of their own, Goosen, triumphed the last time the US Open was held there, could provide the breakthrough they have been waiting for.

There are six South Africans in this year’s US Open, which ends on Sunday, and only England, with 17 representatives, and hosts the United States, with 83 golfers, have more representation at this Major than the Rainbow Nation.

South Korea, Japan and Scotland have four representatives, Spain provide three, Sweden, China, Northern Ireland and France have two representatives each while Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Ireland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Norway, India, Taiwan and Thailand have a single representative each.

The past winners who are in this year’s field include Brooks Koepa, the defending champion, Dustin Johnson, the world number one who won in 2016, Jordan Spieth, who won in 2015, Martin Kaymer, who won in 2014, Justin Rose, who won in 2013, Webb Simpson, who won in 2012, Rory McIIroy who won in 2011 and Graeme McDowell who won in 2010.

Only Rose, who is an Englishman, and Kaymer, who is from Germany, helped break the dominance of the Americans during the last eight years at the US Open.

Lucas Glover, who won the tournament in 2009, Tiger Woods, who won in 2000, 2002 and 2008 and Jim Furyk, are some of the Americans who are past winners of the tournament and are in the strong field for this year’s battle.

For the Southern African golfers, who are part of the field, the only winner is Els who won the US Open in 1994 and 1997.

The 2018 US Open purse is set at US$12 million, with the winner's share coming in at US$2,160,000.

The past three US Opens at Shinnecock Hills have not gone according to script with many of the favourites tumbling and a number of outsiders coming to the fore to claim the big jackpot.

A 46-year-old Raymond Floyd shocked the world by winning the tournament in 1986, Corey Pavin followed suit in 1995 and Goosen found a way to hold off Mickelson down a nervy stretch in 2004 for his second win in two years at the tournament.

That is why some even feel Louis Oosthuizen, the South African, could have a chance this weekend.

“In a Major, it’s all in how you go around the greens,” Oosthuizen told the US media this week. “If you make putts and your short game is in good form, you can save yourself when you don’t hit it too great off the tee.

“It’s a golf course I like on my eye. It suits me. Now it’s just going out and hitting proper shots and hopefully, make a few putts.

“The guy that is going to have an advantage will really drive it long and straight around here, but they have an advantage every single week.

“The big thing now with golf is that guys aren’t scared of hitting their drivers everywhere. You sort of want to see it a little bit narrower, especially in a major to really give the guys who hit it straight for the week and plot their way around the golf course a good opportunity.”

He then went on Twitter to say, “Shinnecock gives you plenty to think about,” with an attachment of a picture of him in the rough.

And that tweet provoked a lot of response from those who are wishing him well.

“Good luck, you are a great ball striker,” said Jeff Moore while Trevor Yates said, “best of luck from Texas,” with Gary Rutherford claiming, “(it’s) your week Louis! Tee to green so important but there is no one better. To my favorite golfer, all the best.”

Paul Edwards Scanlen also believes Oosthuizen could strike gold this weekend.

“I think it’s your week. Soft fades into those run off greens. Play well,” said Scanlen.

 

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