Can a dark horse or sleeper win arguably the toughest of all major championships? Traditionally, the answer to that question would be no, as a look back through the list of U.S. Open champions is a roster of blue bloods. Names like Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer and Watson are all over the U.S. Open trophy. More so over the last decade, the last nine U.S. Open winners have all been well established PGA Tour pros.
Of course, there’s always the rare occurrence of a true dark horse sprinting ahead to steal the Open. While guys like Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson have all won recently, there’s also players like Michael Campbell, Steve Jones and Lucas Glover who have all hoisted the trophy over the last 25 years.
So, you’re saying there’s a chance? Yes. With that in mind, here are five dark horse candidates to keep an eye on this week at Winged Foot.
Hovland is one of the bright up and comers who already has a win under his belt at the age of 22. The Norwegian, who played his college golf at Oklahoma State, is expected to develop into the type of player Colin Morikawa has quickly become. Hovland finished T-12 in his U.S. Open debut a year ago at Pebble Beach and hasn’t missed a cut since the season restart, compiling five top 20 finishes, including third place at the Workday Charity Open.
The veteran PGA Tour pro surprisingly doesn’t have a ton of U.S. Open experience having played in just three, but the bomber brings the length that will be required to handle Winged Foot. Kokrak ranked ninth this past season in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and seventh in Driving Distance. He also heads to New York playing solid golf with top 15 finishes in his last three starts including at T-6 at the BMW Championship.
A year ago, Reavie put together his best performance at a major with a third-place finish at Pebble Beach. He did that by hitting fairway after fairway at a 75% clip. That accuracy will be huge this week at Winged Foot with the lush rough expected to be beyond penal. Reavie ranked seventh on tour last season in driving accuracy and is fresh off a T-3 finish at last week’s Safeway Open.
You are likely familiar with Kaymer, though you probably haven’t heard his name in six years or so. The German is a two-time major winner and has had success in the U.S. Open, winning the 2014 edition at Pinehurst in dominating fashion. Since then Kaymer has fallen off the map…until the last month. After putting together back-to-back top 3 showings on the European Tour, Kaymer seems to be returning to the Open in great form.
At just 19 years old, the stud from Denmark will be making his U.S. Open debut at Winged Foot and if recent play is any indicator, the kid is ready. Hojgaard’s stock has been on a meteoric rise in Europe following not one, but two wins over the past year. The first coming as an 18-year old! He’s also racked up four top six finishes over his last five starts catapulting to 66th in the world rankings. Did I mention he hasn’t celebrated his 20th birthday yet?