Punch Shot: Qualifier with best chance at Merion?

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The 57 survivors from Golf’s Longest Day aren’t content with simply getting to Merion. Now, they want to factor into the mix at the U.S. Open.   

Each year there is a qualifier who draws headlines at the tournament proper. So, we asked our panel of writers: Which of the sectional qualifiers has the best chance to contend at Merion?

By JASON SOBEL

Jordan Spieth is the real deal.

I don’t care that he’s only 19 or that he entered this season with no status on any tour or that he’s competed in just one career major championship. And it doesn’t seem like he cares too much, either.

With four top-10s in a dozen PGA Tour starts this season – which has earned him full-time status in the big leagues – Spieth is either too young and naïve to understand just how difficult this game can be or – even better – this game just isn’t difficult for him.

Last year at The Olympic Club, he earned low amateur honors for his T-21 finish. This year, he posted three consecutive birdies down the stretch in his sectional qualifying bid to make it back – and he’ll return as a more poised, mature competitor. That should bode well at Merion, a course which will test players’ patience at every turn.

Big moments only seem to motivate Spieth, rather than serving to overwhelm. I don’t know that he has what it takes to win so soon, but he can certainly contend next week. 


By RYAN LAVNER

If he could play well there less than two weeks after getting his learner’s permit, and then again as a standout at Oklahoma State, then I like Morgan Hoffmann’s chances of duplicating his amateur success next week at Merion.

At the 2005 U.S. Amateur, Hoffmann made match play as a 16-year-old. A few years later, as a member of the victorious 2009 U.S. Walker Cup team, Hoffmann posted a 2-0-1 record, including a victory in singles. Of course, that amateur success won’t amount to much once play begins next Thursday. But so few of this year’s participants have played Merion in a competitive setting, and Hoffmann should enjoy at least a semblance of an advantage in terms of sight lines, club selection, charting, etc.

Besides, the PGA Tour rookie is finally starting to come into his own after a slow start to his 2013 campaign. The 23-year-old has a pair of top 25s in his last four starts, including a T-5 at the Nelson. Another good week awaits outside Philly.


By RANDALL MELL

I'll take Sang-Moon Bae.

Asians swept all four major championships in a single season in women’s golf for the first time last year, and now it’s time for the men to flex some muscle.

South Koreans are particularly skillful in the U.S. Open on the women’s side, having won the championship four of the last five years. Se Ri Pak got the women started winning at Blackwolf Run in ’98. Now, Bae, coming off his victory at the Byron Nelson Championship last month, is poised to leave his country’s fingerprints on the U.S. Open trophy after qualifying Monday through the sectional in Columbus, Ohio.

Five years after Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship, Bae gives South Korean men a chance to move a little more out of the shadow of the South Korean women.