CAPE TOWN – Judging by the deluge of congratulations he received from family and a wide circle of friends you would have thought Dean Burmester had won the US Open at Pebble Beach, not just qualified for this week’s championship beginning tomorrow.
But the manner in which he made the grade in Sectional Qualifying at England’s esteemed Walton Heath Golf Club was certainly worth more than just a gentle pat on the back.
The South African opened with a brilliant round of 63, nine-under par, which he followed with a round of 65 to top the leaderboard on 128, four better than the next man.
“I guess it was just one of those days when you roll out of bed and the putts go in the hole,” said Burmester.
This year’s US Open start will be his second of his career after finishing T56 at Shinnecock Hills last year. And, of course, fellow South Africans Justin Walters and Merrick Bremner also booked coveted spots this year by qualifying at Walton Heath. This brings the SA contingent to 10 players in the 155-man line-up, if you include Rory Sabbatini who now, strangely, plays under the Slovakia flag after marrying a woman from that country.
Erik van Rooyen also earned a spot at sectional qualifying in Columbus, Ohio, while Branden Grace, Justin Harding and Louis Oosthuizen were already exempt thanks to their world ranking, and 49-year-old Ernie Els - US Open champion in 1994 and 1997 - has been granted a special invitation.
Finally there’s Ernie’s nephew Jovan Rebula who gets in because he won the British Amateur last year.
This will be the sixth time Pebble Beach has hosted the US Open.
To re-cap briefly, Jack Nicklaus won there in 1972, Tom Watson in 1982, Tom Kite in 1992, Tiger Woods in 2000 (when his 272 aggregate saw him finish a whopping 15 shots ahead of the Big Easy and Miguel Angel Jiménez who were joint second) and Graeme McDowell in 2010.
And I love the story about Watson, how while at Stanford University in and around 1970 he used to often make the two-hour drive down the coast and play “Pebble” alone. Frequently, he would fantasize playing the last couple of holes against Nicklaus with the US Open on the line.
“I’d get to those holes and say ‘you need to play these one under to win’. Of course, I’d always play them two over. Then I’d say, ‘You’ve got a long way to go kid!’”
Well, Watson did go “a long way” and not only played 17 and 18 in one under in the final round in 1982 to beat the Golden Bear into second place, he birdied both to win by two. At the par-3 17th his tee-shot was in the rough beside the green. His caddie Bruce Edwards told him to “get it close”.
Watson responded: “I’m not going to get it close, I’m going to make it.”
And he did. It remains one of the most famous shots in Major golf history.