After his Masters debut in early April, University of Oklahoma sophomore Brad Dalke offered a bold assessment: His golf game wasn’t far below that of the touring professionals with whom he shared the stage at Augusta National Golf Club.
He also felt his game had been steadily rising since his runner-up finish in the U.S. Amateur Championship last August at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which earned him places in the field for the Masters and the U.S. Open, June 15-18 at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis.
His premonition came to fruition on May 17. Dalke posted a career-best 12-under 198 total on the challenging Stanford University Golf Course in the NCAA Division I Stanford Regional for his first individual collegiate victory.
But neither Dalke nor the No. 14-ranked Sooners were content with simply reaching the NCAA Championships for the seventh consecutive year. Once there, Dalke compiled a 2-1 record in match play, including a win in the final over Sulman Raza of Oregon, to lead Oklahoma to its second NCAA title.
“It means so much. This team we have, we are all just brothers,” said Dalke. “To be able to come out here and win this thing with my guys and make the last putt to clinch it, it is so cool.”
Dalke’s memorable month has infused him with confidence on the eve of his first appearance in the U.S. Open – not that he was lacking confidence before. At 17, he met four-time major winner Rory McIlroy at a junior event at Sage Valley Golf Club in South Carolina. The precocious teen challenged the Ulsterman to an arm-wrestling match – and won.
Dalke’s appearance in the 81st Masters Tournament – his second start in a professional event following the 2016 Valero Texas Open – was instructional. Though he endured a rough start by playing his first four holes in 4 over par, he held it together for an opening 6-over 78. He followed with a 75, thanks to three birdies in his last six holes. Missing the cut didn’t dampen his spirits.
“I feel like I'm just as good as these guys,” said Dalke. “Obviously, there's parts of my game that I need to improve and get better, but I probably hit my irons better than a lot of these guys. With the driver … I’m probably one of the longer ones, I feel like. I need to hit the driver a little straighter. My short game's a little below average. I need to work on that a little bit. And then putting, I just need to get a little more consistent with it. I'm a little too streaky right now.”
Dalke now gets another chance to measure his game against the world’s best players. He understands precisely what he needs to do at Erin Hills to improve on his Masters performance.
“Need to hit it straight,” he said. “It's a long course. I think that I'm a good long‑iron player, so I think that will help me. But, yeah, just need to tidy a few things up, especially on the greens and around the greens, and I think I'll be in good shape. So, obviously, Erin Hills will be a good test. I just want to go there and compete.”
In addition to playing in his first U.S. Open, Dalke has a busy summer ahead, including another shot at winning the U.S. Amateur. Dalke turns 20 on the penultimate day of the championship at The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
“I want to go win some tournaments this summer before I get there,” said Dalke, who also is hoping to make the Walker Cup Team, which will compete against Great Britain & Ireland Sept. 9-10 at The Los Angeles Country Club. “My game is really coming around. I’ve improved a ton. I think the U.S. Open will be a better gauge of where my game is. Augusta is a magical place, but it’s a grind, especially in the wind we played in. … I think I will be a little more comfortable at the U.S. Open, a USGA event. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think it will be a great experience.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.