Two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els, of South Africa, and 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., have received special exemptions into the 118th U.S. Open Championship, which will be conducted June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, in Southampton, N.Y.
Els, 48, won the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club and the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda, Md. Furyk, 47, won his U.S. Open title at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. Els will compete in his 26th consecutive U.S. Open, while Furyk will make his 24th Open start and his 23rd in a row.
“It’s a thrill and I’m very grateful to the USGA,” said Els, who is one of 18 players to win multiple U.S. Opens and was the first international player to accomplish the feat since Alex Smith in 1910. “Obviously, the U.S. Open means a lot to me. This is kind of where it all started, you might say. Winning at Oakmont at the age of 24, as I’ve said before it was almost like a shock the way it happened. I still thought I had some steps to climb to get there. Then ’97 was just a very, very special week, winning in the nation’s capital, and that set me up for a really great year. For me there are so many wonderful memories from U.S. Opens and it’s exciting to be able to keep that story going.”
In 1994 at Oakmont, Els defeated Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie in a playoff after the three players tied at 5-under-par 279 through 72 holes. Els won the playoff on the 20th hole with a par after Roberts found a greenside bunker on the par-4 11th, leading to a bogey. Montgomerie was eliminated after shooting 78 for 18 holes while Els and Roberts both shot 74. Els became the youngest U.S. Open winner since Jerry Pate in 1976.
Els survived a four-way battle to win his second U.S. Open in 1997, finishing with five consecutive pars for a 72-hole score of 4-under 276. Montgomerie was one stroke behind, third-round leader Tom Lehman was two back and Jeff Maggert finished five strokes off the pace. All four were tied for the lead with nine holes to play on Congressional’s Blue Course. Els’ 5-iron approach to within 18 feet on the par-4 17th helped separate him from the group.
Furyk was three strokes better than Stephen Leaney, of Australia, in his 2003 victory. He finished at 8-under 272, which tied the U.S. Open scoring record and has since been broken by Rory McIlroy (2011). Furyk opened with rounds of 67-66-67 to establish the 54-hole scoring mark (also eclipsed by McIlroy in 2011) and entered the final round leading by three strokes.
“As a past U.S. Open champion, I am grateful to the USGA to accept a special exemption into the U.S. Open Championship, where the quality of the course and how it’s set up pushes me to step up my physical and mental game,” Furyk said. “Getting to play in another U.S. Open at a historic course like Shinnecock Hills really gets my competitive spirit flowing. I’ve had great success in my many trips to the U.S. Open and winning one is a highlight of my career.”
In addition to their victories, Els and Furyk own exemplary U.S. Open records. Els, who was the runner-up to Tiger Woods in 2000 and was third in 2010, owns 10 top-10 finishes. Furyk is a three-time runner-up (2006, 2007, 2016) and has been among the top five finishers seven times.
Els and Furyk are the first players to receive special exemptions into the U.S. Open since Retief Goosen in 2016. Prior to Goosen, Tom Watson and Vijay Singh were awarded exemptions in 2010 at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. Goosen missed the 36-hole cut at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, while Watson and Singh tied for 29th and 40th, respectively, in 2010. Hale Irwin is the lone player to win the U.S. Open playing on a special exemption, doing so in a memorable 19-hole playoff over Mike Donald in 1990 at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club to claim his third U.S. Open title.
Brian DePasquale is a manager of championship communications for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.