The Loop

Assessing the amateurs' chances at Congressional

June 15, 2011

BETHESDA, Md. -- Recent Georgia graduate Russell Henley has had an eventful spring, becoming only the second amateur to win a Nationwide Tour event in April and leading the Bulldogs to the finals of the NCAA Championship earlier this month. The 22-year-old from Macon, Ga., however, has a chance to accomplish something else that only two other amateur golfers have done since World War II.

Claim low amateur honors at consecutive U.S. Opens.


Henley tied with Illinois' Scott Langley for 16th at Pebble Beach a year ago. If he could repeat the feat this year at Congressional CC he would join Jack Nicklaus (1960 & 1961) and Phil Mickelson (1990 & 1991) as back-to-back low-amateur honorees.

An amateur playing on the weekend at the U.S. Open has become a relatively frequent occurrence. At least one amateur has made the cut in the major in 11 of the last 13 years and 23 of the last 31 years. Two or more amateurs have made the cut six of the past eight years.

Twelve from the play-for-pride set are in the field at Congressional (Bud Cauley and Chris DeForest qualified as amateurs but decided to make the U.S. Open their pro debuts). And who has the best chance of joining the eventual champion at Sunday's awards ceremony? Here's a look at the contenders and their odds of making the championship more than a two-day affair.

Michael Barbosa, 28, St. Petersburg, Fla.

How he qualified: Second at the Vero Beach, Fla., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 50-1

Skinny: The former Georgia Tech golfer is a salesman and trader for Peraza Capital and one of just two mid-amateurs to make the field. It's been a while, however, since he competed against a field anywhere near this good.

Brad Benjamin, 24, Rockford, Ill.

How he qualified: Second at the St. Charles, Ill., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 45-1

Skinny: The 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion birdied a playoff hole at the sectional qualifier to get into the field. Despite finishing school at Memphis in 2009, he has remained an amateur and hopes that a solid summer could help him earn a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team. Missed the cut at the 2010 Masters in his only other major appearance.

Patrick Cantlay, 19, Los Alamitos, Calif.

How he qualified: T-4 at Columbus, Ohio, sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 8-1

Skinny: It appears the UCLA freshman's game is peaking at an appropriate time. Cantlay closed out his first college season with a runner-up finish at the NCAA Championship, setting the Bruins single-season scoring mark while claiming the Jack Nicklaus Award as the national player of the year. Besides having a solid swing and confident short game, Cantlay's mental make-up suggests that the stage of a major championship won't overwhelm him, making him a favorite to be this year's low amateur.

David Chung, 21, Fayetteville, N.C.

How he qualified: Exempt as the U.S. Amateur runner-up

Odds of making the cut: 30-1

Skinny: Chung has the benefit of having played in the Masters in April, where he missed the cut, but gained familiarity with competing in a major. Unfortunately for the Stanford golfer, his game hasn't been on form of late. He finished his junior season with a 73.3 average and just one top-10 finish. It feels like it's been a long time since Chung's wins at the Porter Cup and Western Amateur.

Russell Henley, 22, Macon, Ga.

How he qualified: Third at the Ball Ground, Ga., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 12-1

Skinny: It's been a hectic few days for Henley, who played in the NCAA Championship at Karsten Creek in Oklahoma, flew to Georgia to get through sectional qualifying, then flew to Connecticut to play for the U.S. team in the Palmer Cup. Henley's biggest advantage over the rest of the amateurs in the field is that he has experience playing in pro events, a psychological edge that could be the difference come the weekend.

Beau Hossler, 16, Mission Viejo, Calif.

How he qualified: T-3 at the Glendale, Calif., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 45-1

Skinny: The high school junior is the youngest player in the field but has experience qualifying for USGA events. He played in the U.S. Amateur in 2009 as an eighth grader. A first-team AJGA All-American, Hossler has a solid game but the stage might be something too tough to adjust to.

Steven Irwin, 36, Arvada, Colo.

How he qualified: T-3 at the Glendale, Calif., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 40-1

Skinny: It might be the first U.S. Open that Irwin has participated in, but he's plenty familiar with the championship; his father, Hale, is a three-time winner. Steven has caddied for dad in at least four previous Opens.

Cheng-Tsung Pan, 19 Chinese Taipei

How he qualified: T-2 at the Summit, N.J., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 25-1

Skinny: The incoming freshman at Washington has shown a lot of promise at the amateur level. The Leadbetter Academy product advanced to the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals as a 15-year-old in 2007, the youngest golfer to do so since Bobby Jones. He has already been medalist at the Western Amateur twice (2009 & 2010).

Brett Patterson, 19, McMinnville, Tenn.

How he qualified: Co-medalist at the Ball Ground, Ga., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 45-1

Skinny: Just finished up his sophomore season at Middle Tennessee State. He capped off a second-round course-record 62 with a 80-foot putt on the last hole to earn his spot in the Congressional field. While having played well in Tennessee state events, Patterson's experience in national competition is limited.

Scott Pinckney, 22, Cave Creek, Ariz.

How he qualified: Co-medalist at the Glendale, Calif., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 35-1

Skinny: Pinckney just finished up his eligibility at Arizona State, where he often shinned in pressure situations. He was second at his NCAA regionals site, suggesting that his game is in solid form. Whether these factors can overcome any major championship jitters, however, remains to be seen.

Peter Uihlein, 21, Orlando

How he qualified: Exempt as U.S. Amateur champion

Odds of making the cut: 10-1

Skinny: Disappointing after failing to make the cut at the Masters, plus a so-so performance at his home course during the recent NCAA Championship, is likely to fuel Uihlein as he prepares for Congressional. Playing with defending champion Graeme McDowell and British Open champion shouldn't phase him, either.

Chris Williams, 19, Moscow, Idaho

How he qualified: Medalist at the Bremerton, Wash., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 30-1

Skinny: Five birdies in a six-hole stretch over the final nine holes helped the rising junior at Washington claim his spot in the Congressional field. Williams previous claim to fame was earning college golf's Phil Mickelson Award as the nation's top freshman in 2010.

-- Ryan Herrington

(Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)