The US Open has always placed a premium on experience and know-how, making it perhaps the toughest of the four Majors for young bloods to win.
This year’s 111th edition at Congressional Golf Club outside Washington, DC, will be no different and will test to the full the abilities of emerging talents like Italy’s Matteo Manassero, Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.
The trio’s build-ups to the year’s second Major have been vastly different.
While 18-year-old Manassero elected to stay at home to compete in the Italian Open, 22-year-old McIlroy headed out to Haiti in his new role as a Unicef Ireland ambassador.
The 19-year-old Ishikawa, meanwhile, has been struggling for form and then found himself embroiled in a spot of bother over a driving licence offence.
McIlroy, already well-established in the world top 10, chose to visit Haiti as his first official overseas trip as a Unicef ambassador to see for himself the ongoing relief efforts for those hit by the devastating January 2010 earthquake.
But he arrived back in Washington, DC, on Wednesday and quickly got down to the business of preparing for the tournament. His first impressions were positive.
“Saw Congressional GC for the first time today … Great golf course, gotta draw the ball a lot so hopefully that will suit me,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
The Ulsterman will be keen to finally put behind him the memory of his last round in a Major on US soil, when he carried a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Masters in April only to slump to a horrendous 80.
He certainly has shown no signs of a Masters hangover since then and Englishman Justin Rose says that he is one player who should have a chance of winning at Congressional.
“It’s the level of consistency that he seems to churn out, top-five, top-10 finishes, that’s impressive,” he said. “I think learning to win is a skill and something that he has, and something that he’ll only get better at doing. But the level of consistency at which he’s playing for such a young guy, I think, is impressive.
“There’s a number of guys out there with the talent, but it’s sort of putting the whole package together to compete week in and week out. And I think that’s the impressive thing about all the young guys.”
Manassero is another player who has caught the eye of Rose and the Italian himself admits that he is “amazed” by the progress he has made since turning pro last year.
In that time he has won two tournaments, has six other top-10 finishes and risen to 30th in the world ranking.
“Everything happened really fast — much faster than I thought,” Manassero said of his golf over the last few months. “I didn’t expect to achieve two wins at this stage. I have to say it was very fast. Sometimes I am amazed it happened so fast.
“Now I am more used to the life on Tour and I know what goes on. I have had to grow up quickly and learn quickly.”
It will be Manassero’s third appearance in a Major after he tied for 30th as an amateur at last year’s Masters and tied for 13th at the 2009 British Open, and many feel that he is destined for star status in the US.
Japan’s Ishikawa is more used to playing in the US, but his troubled preparations have left him fearful of what lies ahead.
Winless this season, he qualified last month for the US Open by climbing up to 49th in the world rankings, with the top 50 players then eligible for the June 16 to 19 tournament. His ranking has since slipped to 53.
“I know too well how big the gap is between the top rankers and myself in skills. I am really thrilled about being able to take part,” said Ishikawa, who finished tied in 33rd place at the 2010 US Open.
“At the same time, I wonder how badly I may be beaten up on my return.”
Ishikawa has struggled with his short game this season but managed to finish tied 20th at the Masters after missing the cut there for two straight years since his 2009 debut. It was his best result in his eight US Major challenges.
But at home, he missed the weekend rounds for a second consecutive week last Friday, finishing tied in second-to-last place at the Japan Golf Tour Championship, a major domestic event. — Sapa-AFP