Meet the Amateurs

U.S. Open 2024: 16 interesting facts about the 16 amateurs competing at Pinehurst

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Ross Kinnaird

PINEHURST, N.C. — There was a time when amateurs winning the U.S. Open was, well, a thing. Francis Ouimet famously pulled off the feat for the first time in 1913 at The Country Club, stunning professional legends Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to change the way Americans approached the sport altogether. In the next 20 years, four players—Jerome Travers, Chick Evans, Bobby Jones and Johnny Goodman—followed suit, winning seven times, Jones most famously claiming four himself (1923, 1926, 1929 and 1930).

Nearly a century later, expecting an amateur to win the USGA's marquee championship is quite the ask. The closest anyone has come is Jack Nicklaus' runner-up showing at the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. But that doesn't mean the 16 golfers playing for pride rather than a paycheck can't acquit themselves well this week at Pinehurst No. 2. All they need to do is look back five months, to when reigning U.S. Amateur champion Nick Dunlap pulled out an unexpected victory at The American Express, the first by an amateur on the PGA Tour in 33 years. Yes, the final-round pressure would be exponentially greater at a major. But the talent and determination shown by the amateurs who are in the 2024 U.S. Open field suggests they are interested in playing more than supporting roles in this year's production.

Some of the amateurs in the field already have pedigrees for common golf fans—Gordon Sargent is the World No. 1 and has a PGA Tour card locked up for whenever he wants to turn pro; and Neal Shipley became a viral sensation in April after making the cut at the Masters, outplaying Tiger Woods when paired with him on the weekend and earning low amateur honors. Below are all 16 who have played their way into this week's championship at Pinehurst, with a few fun facts for you to know as you potentially see their names pop-up on the leaderboard.

Parker Bell

Tallahassee, Fla.
Age: 20
How he got in U.S. Open: Final Qualifying
World Amateur Golf Ranking:
141

The rising junior at Florida got a bit of redemption for losing in the semifinals at last year’s U.S. Amateur (and missing out on earning an exemption into the U.S. Open) by getting through a playoff to earn one of the last spots at the Final Qualifier in Dallas.

Gunnar Broin

Shorewood, Minn.
Age: 22
How he got in U.S. Open: Local and Final Qualifying
WAGR: 477

Like 2019 U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland, Broin transferred to Kansas to play college golf. But Broin is believed to be the first active Jayhawk to qualify and compete in a major.

Jackson Buchanan

Dacula, Ga.
Age: 22
How he got in U.S. Open: Final Qualifying
WAGR: 30

Buchanan, the reigning Big Ten player of the year and runner-up at the 2023 NCAA Championship, bogeyed his 36th hole of Final Qualifying a year ago to miss out on a playoff for a chance at getting into the U.S. Open at LACC. This year, he shared medalist honors at the Golf Club of Georgia.

Luke Clanton

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C. Morgan Engel

Hialeah, Fla.
Age: 20
How he got in U.S. Open: Final Qualifying
WAGR: 6

Clanton, who was a semifinalist at the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur when it was held at nearby C.C. of North Carolina, won three college titles this spring for Florida State before finishing in a share of second at the NCAA Championship. He also helped lead the Seminoles to the team finals before they fell to Auburn.

Santiago De la Fuente

Mexico
Age: 22
How he got in U.S. Open: Latin America Amateur champion
WAGR: 26

De la Fuente, low amateur at the PGA Tour’s Mexico Open earlier this year, is in the midst of a three-major season in 2024 thanks to his victory in January at the Latin America Amateur Championship. He missed the cut at the Masters in April and will play at Royal Troon next month in the 152nd Open Championship.

Stewart Hagestad

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Patrick Smith

Newport Beach, Calif.
Age: 33
How he got in U.S. Open:
U.S. Mid-Amateur champion
WAGR: 18

Hagestad is playing in his fifth U.S. Open, the most appearances by an amateur since Jay Sigel played in his fifth U.S. Open in 1989. Hagestad’s best finish at the U.S. Open is 64th at The Country Club in 2022.

Ben James

Milford, Conn.
Age: 21
How he got in U.S. Open: Final Qualifying
WAGR: 5

James just wrapped up his sophomore season at Virginia by finishing tied for second at the NCAA Championship and earned first-team All-American honors for a second year. By doing so, the 2023 U.S. Walker Cup team member also became the first Cavalier to be a first-teamer in multiple seasons.

Bryan Kim

Brookeville, Md.
Age: 19
How he got in U.S. Open: U.S. Junior Amateur champion
WAGR: 211

Kim won the U.S. Junior title last July in wild fashion at Daniel Island Club in South Carolina: The 36-hole championship match stretched into two days due to weather and had six lead changes. Kim made birdie on the 35th hole to take lead for good and won 36th hole for a 2-up victory.

Ashton McCulloch

Canada
Age: 21
How he got in U.S. Open: Final Qualifying
WAGR: 232

A rising senior at Michigan State who won the 2023 Canadian Amateur title, McCulloch overtook 2021 U.S. Amateur champion James Piot for lowest career stroke average at MSU (71.74) this past season.

Omar Morales

Mexico
Age: 21
How he got in U.S. Open: Final Qualifying
WAGR: 29

Morales, a rising senior at UCLA who finished runner-up at the Latin America Amateur Championship in January, is set to compete in a second straight U.S. Open after qualifying last summer for LACC.

Colin Prater

Colorado Springs, Colo.
Age: 29
How he got in U.S. Open:
Local and Final Qualifying
WAGR: 1,145

Prater was a four-time NCAA D-II All-American at UC-Colorado Springs who won 14 times in college, but remained an amateur after graduation, eventually becoming a high school science teacher who also coaches the boys and girls golf teams. He still plays competitively, though, winning the Colorado Amateur in 2016 and 2020, playing in last year’s U.S. Amateur and most recently in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. He’s also the father of a 20-month-old daughter with his wife due to give birth to their second child in July.

Gordon Sargent

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Andrew Redington

Birmingham, Ala
Age:
21
How he got in U.S. Open:
McCormack Medal winner
WAGR:
1

A rising senior at Vanderbilt, Sargent has chosen to stay in college for his final year despite having a guaranteed PGA Tour card if he turned pro via the PGA Tour U Accelerated program (he still can use the card when he’s done with school next spring). Went 4-0 at St. Andrews while helping the U.S. win the 2023 Walker Cup; also part of the victorious U.S. side at the 2023 World Amateur Team Championship.

Neal Shipley

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Andrew Wevers

Pittsburgh, Pa.
Age: 23
How he got in U.S. Open: U.S. Amateur finalist
WAGR: 34

If he were to claim low amateur honors this week at Pinehurst after doing so at the Masters in April, Shipley would be the first golfer since Viktor Hovland in 2019 to win both and just the second player since Matt Kuchar in 1998.

Hiroski Tai

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C. Morgan Engel

Singapore
Age: 22
How he got in U.S. Open:
NCAA champion
WAGR: 35

Tai is 22 and only just finished his sophomore season in college by claiming the NCAA individual title. That’s because he spent 22 months doing mandatory military service with the Singapore Navy before going to Georgia Tech, serving as a weapons specialist. “I was gunner,” Tai told Golf Channel. “I got to shoot a machine gun at floating targets in the ocean. All training, though. Nothing real.”

Brendan Valdes

Orlando, Fla.
Age: 21
How he got in U.S. Open: Final Qualifying
WAGR: 22

It’s been a heck of a few weeks for the rising senior at Auburn. After helping lead the Tigers to the NCAA team title, the first-team All-American got into the U.S. Open for a second straight year via Final Qualifying. This after a 2023-24 college season in which Valdes finished with a 70.42 stroke average, one victory and nine top-10 finishes. Oh, and in 2018, Valdes won the Boys 14-15 Division of the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National.

Wells Williams

West Point, Miss.
Age:
20
How he got in U.S. Open:
Final Qualifying
WAGR: 58

Williams, a Vanderbilt twice has reached the semifinals at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship (with partner Carer Loflin).

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