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The Loop

Assessing the amateurs' chances at Olympic Club

June 13, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- If history is any indication, it would be no surprise to see an amateur on the leader board this weekend at the U.S. Open.

To wit: three of the four previous times the USGA has brought the national championship to the Olympic Club, an amateur has finished inside the top 15 after 72 holes. Harvie Ward posted a T-7 performance here in 1955, Johnny Miller a T-8 in 1966, and Matt Kuchar a T-14 in 1998.

This year's amalgam of amateurs might not be large in quantity -- eight amateurs is the fewest to compete in the Open since 2002 -- but it is long on quality. Leading the way are Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth, a pair of U.S. Walker Cup team members who are no strangers to the spotlight.


Cantlay finished T-21 at last year's U.S. Open. (Photo: Getty Images)

Cantlay claimed low amateur honors a year ago at Congressional CC, finishing T-21. It was the first of six made cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last year for the 20-year-old from Los Alamitos, Calif. A repeat performance at Olympic would make the current UCLA undergrad just the third golfer since World War II to claim the honor in back-to-back years, joining Jack Nicklaus (1960 & '61) and Phil Mickelson (1990 & '91). He would also claim the second leg of the 2012 amateur "triple crown," after earning low-am honors at the Masters in April. (He has a spot in the British Open field, provided he does not turn pro beforehand.)

Spieth got into the field at Olympic as an alternate after Brandt Snedeker withdrew from the championship Monday evening with a rib injury. The 18-year-old is still catching his breath after a whirlwind few weeks. He wrapped up an All-American freshman season at Texas by helping the Longhorns claim the NCAA team title at Riviera CC June 3, then flew that night from Los Angeles to Houston for his 36-hole Open sectional qualifier June 4. Playing on three hours of sleep, he nearly bowed out during his second 18 at Lakeside CC but regrouped and kept alive an outside shot at competing in his first major by getting into a playoff for the final berth at the site.

Mind you, if contending for the title seems a bit of a longshot, playing on the weekend shouldn't be. In 12 of the last 14 years at least one amateur has made the cut at the U.S. Open.

So who has the best shot among our Elite Eight? Here's a look at the contenders in alphabetical order and their odds of making the championship more than a two-day affair.

Patrick Cantlay, 20, Los Alamitos, Calif.

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

Odds of making the cut: 6-1

Skinny: You'd be hard pressed to find an amateur anywhere in the world who plays with the cool confidence of Cantlay. His game is in better shape than it was entering the Masters, so you'd think he's ready to have a big week in San Francisco. The only potential distraction would be the on-going consternation of whether or not he should turn pro. Cantlay has a sponsor's exemption into next week's Travelers Championship, where he shot a second-round 60 a year ago.

Beau Hossler, 17, Mission Viejo, Calif.

How he qualified: T-2 at Daly City, sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 20-1

Skinny: Hossler has the second-most experience in major championships of any amateur in the field, having qualified for the U.S. Open at Congressional last year (albeit missing the cut). Have to think that last year's play will help calm the nerves and allow him to play more freely this time around. Impressively birdied two of his last three holes to qualify for Olympic Club, which also speaks to his confidence.

Brooks Koepka, 22, Wellington, Fla.

How he qualified: T-3 at Lecanto, Fla., sectional qualifier (won three-way playoff)

Odds of making the cut: 30-1

Skinny: The two-time ACC player of the year, who finished up his career at Florida State last month, is playing in his final tournament as an amateur. He has the talent to make it past Friday, but might have trouble dealing with the distractions of playing in his first major.

Alberto Sanchez, 17, Nogales, Ariz.

How he qualified: T-6 at Daly City, Calif., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 50-1

Skinny: The high school senior is set to enroll at Arizona State this fall. He has played in more than two dozen AJGA tournaments as a junior, recording eight top-10 finishes but no victories. Likely to learn early that playing with the pros is a whole new world for the Texas-bound junior.

Nick Sherwood, 21, Albany, Ore.

How he qualified: T-2 at Creswell, Ore., sectional qualifier (won two-way playoff)

Odds of making the cut: 40-1

Skinny: Took down U. of Oregon's Daniel Miernicki in playoff, making his claim to a spot in the field at Olympic that much sweeter.

Jordan Spieth, 18, Dallas

How he qualified: T-2 at Houston sectional qualifier (first alternate after losing 4-for-2 playoff)

__Odds of making the cut:__15-1

Skinny: He was one of the most highly-acclaimed junior golfers to enter college in recent years, yet Spieth lived up to his hype, posting three wins and nine top-seven finishes along with a 70.92 stroke average. Spieth has experience playing with the pros, having finished T-16 and T-32 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship in 2010 and 2011. The same day he learned he was into the field at Olympic Club, it was also announced that he had received a sponsor's exemption into next month's John Deere Classic. Only cause for pause is his T-54 individual finish at NCAAs, where Spieth complained about some issues with his swing that were causing a hook miss with his driver and irons.

Cameron Wilson, 19, Rowayton, Conn.

How he qualified: Medalist at Summit, N.J., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 30-1

Skinny: The Stanford lefty played with fellow Cardinals Tiger Woods and Casey Martin during Tuesday's practice round, helping him acclimate to his first major championship. Wilson, though, has a unique distraction this week. On Wednesday, he is supposed to move out of his dorm room in Palo Alto having wrapped up his second year in school.

Andy Zhang, 14, Reunion, Fla.

How he qualified: Lecanto, Fla., sectional qualifier

Odds of making the cut: 45-1

Skinny: Like Spieth, Zhang earned his place in the field at Olympic Club after starting the week as an alternate (Paul Casey withdrew with a shoulder injury). By grabbing a spot, he is set to become the youngest known player to compete in the U.S. Open, breaking Tadd Fujikawa's previous mark of 15 years, five months, seven days when he played at Winged Foot in 2006. The bright lights that will accompany his historic accomplishment are likely to be too distracting.

-- Ryan Herrington