U.S. Open field bursting with former Bulldogs

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?

U.S. Open field bursting with former Bulldogs
Scott Michaux

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.

On Thursday and Friday, Bulldogs Kirk, Todd and Henley will play together, starting at 8:02 a.m. on 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 UGA 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.”

The Bulldogs feel pretty sure that 2014 as a whole has been one big Georgia arrival party with five Bulldogs 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 UGA 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 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 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.”

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@dawgontap Yep. It’s in my first sentence.

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