JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's Branden Grace will tee off at Erin Hills in Wisconsin on Thursday in 2017’s second major, hoping to continue his run of good performances at the tournament.
His recent record at the US Open makes him a contender at Erin Hills this week. Having come so close to victory at Chambers Bay in 2015, when a late double-bogey proved costly, Grace has caught the eye of fans and pundits at the US Open over the last two years, after also finishing tied fifth at Oakmont in 2016.
Grace has had plenty of success on windswept, firm and fast layouts in the past. For example the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship win in 2012 and a Commercial Bank Qatar Masters double in 2015 and 2016, so Erin Hills could suit him.
It was really a single wayward shot which cost him a first major title at Chambers Bay – an errant tee shot off 13, which went scuttling onto the railway line to the right, allowed the eventual champion, Jordan Spieth, to forge ahead to victory. He finished in a share of fourth and in 2016, he was in a share of fifth, behind Dustin Johnson’s three-stroke victory, the latter’s first major title.
When those two performances are taken in conjunction with his third-place finish in the 2015 PGA Championship, and his share of fourth a year later in the last major of the year, it’s clear that Grace feels comfortable in the United States majors, which constitute three of the four annually.
The exception, of course, is the Masters, where he missed three consecutive cuts, before finishing in a share of 27th this year, behind Sergio Garcia’s long-awaited first major win, over Justin Rose.
Grace’s form has been moving in the right direction recently, with three finishes of 11th or better in his last four world-wide starts, most recently a tied ninth at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in Surrey, England.
He will want to put two aspects from his most recent finish behind him. The first was the rules dilemma, when he asked for – and was granted – relief from a plugged lie in a bunker because, in taking his stance, his shoe worked its way down to the artificial base of the bunker.
The second was in the final round, when he lost momentum just as he reached the home stretch and should have been pressing for the victory. Nevertheless, Grace is a mentally resilient golfer, and he will use those experiences to strengthen him, as he seeks to extend his impressive record at the US Open.