Of the 150 golfers already qualified for the upcoming U.S. Open, 15 have Georgia ties, with a 16th hoping to get into the championship after finishing as a first alternate in qualifying.
Included among the 15 players who have earned spots at Erin Hills are five former Georgia Bulldogs, three Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and seven players who reside on St. Simons Island, with the possibility of an eighth resident of the coastal Georgia city hoping to join the field.
Dru Love, son of PGA Tour veteran Davis Love III, was the first alternate from a sectional qualifier at Hawk’s Ridge in Ball Ground and is hoping to get one of at least six spots remaining in the field, most of which will likely go to the 12 players who earned first alternate status in sectional qualifiers. Love recently completed his college career at Alabama and would be the only amateur among the Georgia contingent in the U.S. Open if he makes it into the field.
Love would also join seven other St. Simons residents at Erin Hills, four of whom earned spots in sectional qualifiers.
Harris English, one of five ex-Bulldogs in the field, will be competing in his third U.S. Open, and made the cut in his first two. English has made the cut in 10 of 13 starts in the four majors, but has only one top-35 finish. The south Georgia native has two wins in his six seasons on the PGA Tour, but is struggling this season at 117 in the FedExCup standings. English has not finished lower than 42nd the last four years, twice qualifying for the Tour Championship.
PGA Tour rookies J.T. Poston and Trey Mullinax also qualified at sectionals, with Poston earning medalist honors in Columbus, Ohio.
Poston is 99th in the FedExCup with a pair of top-20 finishes, making 15 of 19 cuts. The North Carolina native played his college golf at Western Carolina and went straight to the Web.com Tour, placing 10th on the money list in 2016 with a trio of top-3 finishes. He began the year with no status on the tour before finishing third in his second start of the season in his native state.
Mullinax was a member of Alabama’s back-to-back national championship teams in 2013 and ’14, and also went straight to the Web.com Tour, winning a tournament and finishing eighth on the money list in his second season last year. Mullinax is 151st in the FedExCup standings as a rookie, with a tie for 14th at Pebble Beach is best finish.
Ben Kohles is playing on the Web.com Tour for the fourth straight year after being a PGA Tour member in 2013. Kohles made an immediate splash as a pro when he won his first two starts on the Web.com Tour in 2012 shortly after completing his college career at Virginia. He finished the year eighth on the money list to earn a spot on the PGA Tour. He was 148th as a rookie that year and has been unable to regain his PGA Tour status, finishing out the top 100 on the Web.com money list each of the last three years. He is currently 73rd.
Like Poston and Mullinax, Kohles will be making his first start in one of golf’s four major championships.
Fellow St. Simons residents Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Brian Harman were all exempt for the U.S. Open.
Johnson, who has two majors among his 12 PGA Tour victories,is suffering through a sub-par showing so far this year, standing 95th on the points list. Johnson had enjoyed no success in the U.S. Open until tying for eighth last year at Oakmont.
Kuchar, one of three former Georgia Tech players in the field, has made his last seven cuts in the U.S. Open. He tied for sixth in 2010 at Pebble Beach and has three other top 15 finishes during that span, which is reflective of his career. Kuchar, who has seven career wins on the PGA Tour, is 29th this season in the FedExCup with 10 top-25 finishes in 17 starts, and has placed 12th or better in five of his last seven tournaments.
Harman earned his spot by moving into the top 60 in the World Rankings with a recent win in the Wells Fargo event in North Carolina, his second in six years on the PGA Tour. Harman is en route to his best season this year with four top 10s and is 10th in the FedExCup. The Savannah native and former Bulldog has missed the cut in his only two starts in U.S. Opens and has made just seven appearances in majors in his career, missing all four last year.
The other Georgia Bulldogs in the field are Russell Henley, Kevin Kisner and Bubba Watson.
Henley, a Macon native, tied for 16th at Pebble Beach in his U.S. Open debut in 2010 to earn low amateur honors, but his best showing as a pro in four starts since is 42nd. Henley collected his third PGA Tour win in Houston earlier this year and was 11th in the Masters the following week, his best finish in a major. He is 16th in the FedExCup standings with eight top 25s.
Kisner is one of the hottest players in golf coming into the U.S. Open, winning at Colonial two weeks ago and coming right back with a tie for sixth the next week at Memorial. He has finished fourth or better four times this season and is sixth in the FedExCup. Kisner has made three U.S. Open starts with his top finish a tie for 12th in 2015 at Chambers Bay, which has been compared to Erin Hills and is also hosting the event for a first time.
Watson got off to a slow start this year, but has three top-10s in his last five events to move up to 106 on the points list. Watson, who has two Masters titles among his nine career victories, tied for fifth in his second U.S. Open start at Oakmont in 2007, but other than a tie for 18th in ’09 at Bethpage has done nothing in the event since.
Joining Kuchar in the field as former Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are Atlanta area residents Stewart Cink and Roberto Castro.
Cink has six victories in his 20-plus seasons on the PGA Tour, but his last win was the 2009 British Open and he has not played particularly well since, finishing outside the top 80 every year beginning with 2011. At the age of 44, he is playing his best golf in years, standing 60th on the points list with a string of solid finishes. He has placed in the top 30 in 12 of 18 starts this season, but has not finished higher than 10th.
Castro qualified for the Tour Championship in 2013, but fell out of the top 125 the next year and lost his exempt status. He appears headed for a repeat, standing 167 in the FedExCup after making it to East Lake for a second time last year. Castro has missed eight of his last nine cuts and has not placed higher than 28th this season, and barring a sudden reversal of fortune, his appearance at Erin Hills next week may be his last in a 2017 major. He has missed the cut in each of his three previous U.S. Opens, with his best showing in a major a tie for 12th in the 2013 PGA
Like Watson, former Augusta State star Patrick Reed struggled early in the 2016-17 season, but has placed between 12th and 22nd in each of his last four starts. Reed, who has five wins in his five full seasons on the PGA Tour, is looking for his first top-10 in a major, with his best finish in the U.S. Open a tie for 14th at Chambers Bay two years ago.
PGA Tour rookie Wesley Bryan will be making his first start in a major, moving up to 40th in the World Rankings thanks to a win at Hilton Head earlier this season along with three other top 10s. Bryan, who played his college golf at South Carolina and is residing in Augusta, was the top player on the Web.com Tour last year with three wins in his first season, and has continued his excellent play at the next level.
Bryan had not yet been born when Savannah’s Gene Sauers made his last appearance in a U.S. Open. But after a 30-year absence from the event, Sauers, 54, won the U.S. Senior Open last year to earn a spot in an event he last played in 1987. He qualified for the U.S. Open three times in his first four seasons on the PGA Tour, but this will be his first start since, and his first appearance in a major since 2003. Sauers has played well on the Champions Tour the past five seasons and currently ranks 16th on the money list after finishing 10th in 2014 and 11th last year.