‘Lucky’ Grace hoping to make it count at favourite major at Winged Foot

Branden Grace of South Africa putts on the first green during a practice round prior to the 120th US Open Championship starting Thursday. Picture: Getty Images

In total, there are seven South Africans in the field this week, including Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner, JC Ritchie, who’ll be on debut alongside Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Shaun Norris

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a really fickle broker for Branden Grace’s Major hopes in 2020, first forcing him out of the PGA Championship and now getting him a late spot in the US Open which tees off at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York on Thursday.

Grace had found some great form the week before the PGA Championship and was tied for second midway through the Barracuda Championship on August 1 when he started showing symptoms of Covid-19, had a test done and it came back positive. The 10-day quarantine period meant he missed the first Major of this weird year and it also cost him the chance of qualifying for the US Open.

By the time the cut-off was made for the United States Golf Association’s showpiece event, on August 23, Grace had slipped to 91 in the world rankings due to his two weeks of inactivity and was first alternate for the US Open.

But then last weekend Scottie Scheffler, named Rookie of the Year with seven top-10 finishes and a 59 in the Northern Trust Open, withdrew from the US Open after himself testing positive for Covid-19 and Grace has replaced him in the 144-man field.

“It’s really unfortunate for Scottie, for him to go through what he’s going to go through after having such a great rookie season,” said Grace earlier this week at Winged Foot, an iconic course rated one of the toughest tests in golf.

“I just got lucky with this one and the circle has gone around a little bit. I was really disappointed with the way things initially happened, when I was playing well and then it pretty much cost me the spot to get into the US Open.

“And I couldn’t compete the next week at the PGA, missing that one I was really bummed. But this is my favourite major, the US Open.”

There are seven South African golfers in all teeing it up in the first US Open to be held in September since 1913 with debuts for Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Shaun Norris and JC Ritchie, who qualified by virtue of winning last season’s Sunshine Tour order of merit.

This week provides a second US Open start for Erik van Rooyen and Justin Harding, while Louis Oosthuizen will be gunning for his second major title, a second place in the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay being one of four runners-up finishes for the 2010 Open champion.

The 120th US Open, which will be played without spectators, offers $1.18-million for the champion.

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