Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Georgia's golf dominance on the PGA Tour is seen in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst

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PINEHURST, N.C. — The official USGA research team’s eyes all glazed over at the request – has any college in history had more than eight former players in one U.S. Open field?

Bubba Watson is one of eight former Georgia players in the field. The past four Masters champs are represented in Watson's pairing. Watson, who won in 2012 and 2014, is joined by Charl Schwartzel (2011) and Adam Scott (2013).   David Goldman
David Goldman
Bubba Watson is one of eight former Georgia players in the field. The past four Masters champs are represented in Watson's pairing. Watson, who won in 2012 and 2014, is joined by Charl Schwartzel (2011) and Adam Scott (2013).

Electing not to put in the enormous effort to research such a request, they offered this official response.

“As far as the USGA knows,” they said, “this very well might be a record.”

That conceded record unofficially belongs to the University of Georgia. Eight former Bulldogs – Bubba Watson, Russell Henley, Harris English, Chris Kirk, Brendon Todd, Erik Compton, Hudson Swafford and Aiken’s Kevin Kisner – qualified for this week’s 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Eight and one-eighth if you count the semester Patrick Reed spent playing for Georgia before transferring to Augusta State.

Every one of them was recruited and played for Bulldogs coach Chris Haack.

“It’s obviously a great point of pride for us,” said Haack, “and keeps our name out at the forefront for other recruits to see.”

It’s certainly a point of pride for the players.

“It’s neat,” Watson said. “It shows we’ve got a pretty good program and shows Haacker can recruit pretty good. It’s a cool feat whether it’s a record or close to a record.”

The USGA has long been known for its clever groupings in the first two rounds. But seldom have they had the opportunity to group three players from the same college over the first two rounds. The last time was 2009 when the Oklahoma State trio of Rickie Fowler, Casey Wittenberg and Bo Van Pelt were grouped.

Today and Friday, Bulldogs Kirk, Todd and Henley will play together, starting at 8:02 a.m., off the 10th tee today. Kirk and Todd should be pretty comfortable together since they were roommates for four years in Athens and practiced together two days last weekend in Atlanta.

“It’s pretty cool that they’ve paired three of us together,” Kirk said. “It should be a pretty fun couple of days.”

“Hopefully we can all play well,” Henley said. “If I play as good as those guys, I know I’m doing something right.”

When that threesome showed up on the pairings sheet, Haack knew Georgia had arrived.

“I kind of felt that way when I saw that,” Haack said. “Not only is it cool, but it’s the first time I can remember a school getting a group like that.”

“It’s a testament to how far that program has come under coach Haack and the quality of players he’s turning out,” Kisner said. “As they say in football, ‘Dawgs on top.’”

The Bulldogs feel pretty sure that 2014 as a whole has been one big Georgia arrival party with five winning six PGA Tour events this season – eight victories if you grant partial credit to Reed’s pair of wins.

“It’s been kind of the talk all year having Brendon Todd winning, Chris Kirk winning, Russell winning, me winning, Bubba winning,” English said. “It’s like a big fraternity out here. We all get along and all go to dinner. You’ve got a lot of good players from pretty much all eras of coach Haack’s tenure.”

The relationships have extended for many of them beyond Georgia into the professional ranks. All eight in this field have won at least once on the PGA or Web.com Tours. Combined, they account for 13 career PGA Tour and 12 Web.com Tour victories.

“It says so much about the Georgia golf team and what Chris Haack has meant to the program and how good his recruiting was,” English said. “I guess he had the right combination going on to coach guys and lead them to play on the PGA Tour and to get into one of the biggest tournaments in the world.”

Watson already claimed the season’s first major for the school with his second Masters Tournament victory in three years. With 5.1 percent of the 156-man field sporting the “G” logo, can one of the eight Bulldogs make it two-for-two in majors?

“I hope so,” English said. “We’ve probably got the best chance of anybody this week.”

“Obviously the odds are a little bit better than some,” Watson said.

“Probably better than any other school because we have more guys,” Kirk said.

Haack has no plans to make it to Pinehurst this week, with his annual summer golf camp going on and recruiting appointments. But that’s probably for the best since he had enough trouble trying to keep up with four former players in the Masters two months ago (won by Watson).

“It became really difficult to pick who you were going to follow,” Haack said. “It’s like trying to pick your favorite child.”

Haack conceded one scenario could possibly bring him to Pinehurst on Monday.

“The ideal dream would be that all eight end up in a playoff on Monday,” Haack said. “I’d find a way to get there.”

AT A GLANCE

WHEN: Today-Sunday

SITE: Pinehurst No. 2

LENGTH: 7,562 yards

PAR: 36-34–70

CUT: Top 60 and ties after 36 holes

TELEVISION: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today-Friday (ESPN); 3-5 p.m. today-Friday (NBC-Ch. 26); 5-6 p.m. today (ESPN2); Noon-7:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (NBC-Ch. 26)

NOTABLE TEE TIMES

FIRST HOLE

7:29 a.m.–Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood

7:40–Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell

1:25 p.m.–Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel

10TH HOLE

6:45 a.m.–Henrik Norlander, Lucas Bjerregaard, Rob Oppenheim

6:56–Chad Collins, Lee Kyoung-Hoon, Kevin Kisner

7:18–Patrick Reed, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na

7:51–Justin Rose, a-Matthew Fitzpatrick, Phil Mickelson

8:02–Chris Kirk, Russell Henley, Brendon Todd

AMATEUR CHANCES

There are 12 amateurs scheduled to compete in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 but history is not on their side.

The last amateur to win was John Goodman in 1933 at North Shore Country Club outside Chicago. In fact, Goodman is the last amateur to win any major. The other four amateurs to win are Francis Quimet (1913), Jerome Travers (1915), Chick Evans (1916), and Bobby Jones (1930)

– Associated Press

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