Grace targets US Open
Somerset West - Despite three European Tour wins this season, Branden Grace has not yet qualified for the US Open, but his path has been made clearer by the large number of ranking points on offer at the BMW PGA Championship.
With the winner taking at least 64 points this week, the easiest route for Grace is through the €4,5m tournament, which starts on Thursday at the Wentworth Club.
The 24-year-old currently holds 66th position in the World Rankings after climbing 205 places towards the top of the list since the beginning of the year.
And he will have eyes on the European Tour’s premiere World Ranking points event this week, where a good result will secure a top 60 spot in the rankings and subsequent entry to the US Open.
May 21, one day after Grace’s 24th birthday, formed the first cutoff mark for exemption to the US Open based on World Ranking position. Every player in the top 60 on May 21 earned an invite. Likewise, on June 11 the same opportunity arises.
There are qualifying tournaments for the US Open, and the two Grace could enter are in England on the May 28 or in America on June 4. But it’s unlikely that the youngster will be keen to have to play the International Qualifying if he can avoid it.
And that brings him back to June 11, when he will need to have made the top 60 in the World Ranking. It must be mentioned that a win at the BMW PGA will secure a spot for Grace, but that’s an outside shot for him to count on.
What he will instead be looking for is a piece of the ranking-points pie. And the kind of field that plays at the BMW PGA boosts the points significantly. Grace himself had a huge effect on the latest Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament - having just one player from the world’s top 100 in the field doubled the points on offer.
The BMW PGA is a different kettle of fish - 16 of the world’s top 50, including the top three, will compete. And just to spice things up there are also eight major champions in the field. What that means is that the George local could capitalise on big points, but it will be no mean feat.
Yet his season thus far has shown that he shines when least expected. His win at the Joburg Open in January saw him into the Volvo Champions tournament, where the field only contained European Tour winners from the last calendar year. And yet Grace, the youngest of the lot, took his second victory when he overcame his heroes Retief Goosen and Ernie Els in a playoff.
At the Volvo China Open in April Grace was simply too good for the field, and cruised to a three-stroke victory, marking him as only the sixth player ever to win three times in one European Tour season. So Grace is not looking like an outside shot for US Open entry.
Added to his chances is the pot at Wentworth, where the winner alone walks away with €750 000. Entries to the US Open are given to the top five players in the Race to Dubai, provided they have not yet qualified. And the youngster, at fifth in the Race, is the only player in the top 10 without an entry. The next-closest player still requiring an entry is his countryman, Jbe' Kruger, who holds 14th.
While the field is overwhelmingly strong, Grace has shown that he belongs there, and in much the same way he belongs at the US Open. All that lies between him and the year’s second major is a good result at Wentworth Club.