Brandon Wu, who recently capped off his college career by leading Stanford to the NCAA championship, isn’t afraid of a little competition. Or a lot of it.
When selecting the sectional in which he would compete for a spot in this week’s 119th U.S. Open, the California native decided to venture to Columbus, Ohio, which traditionally is the toughest because it is populated by dozens of PGA Tour players who had just finished competing in the nearby Memorial Tournament. Wu’s reasoning was simple. “I wanted to challenge myself and see how I stacked up against this level of competition,” he explained.
His 5-under 137 effort among 121 players earned him one of the 14 berths available. So, he stacked up just fine.
And he is proving that again after two rounds at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Playing in his first U.S. Open, Wu carded a second-round 2-under 69 and led a group of four amateurs into the final two rounds of the championship. A Palmer Cup competitor and a candidate for the USA Walker Cup Team later this summer, Wu completed 36 holes in 2-under 140 and is tied for 19th with the likes of U.S. Open winners Dustin Johnson and Jim Furyk and reigning Open champion Francesco Molinari.
Talk about a whirlwind few weeks.
“Yeah, it's been a busy couple weeks for sure with a lot of golf,” Wu said after finishing up late on Friday. “But as I keep telling people, it's all really fun golf and all really good golf. So I've had a blast. I mean, this is honestly the dream ending I could have had in my senior year at Stanford.”
The other amateurs advancing to the final two rounds among the 79 players who made the cut were reigning U.S. Amateur champion Viktor Hovland – who won the title last year here at Pebble and is No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ – reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen, and Chandler Eaton, a senior at Duke University. All three also are playing in their first U.S. Open.
Wu, 22, is two strokes ahead of Hovland in the chase for low amateur. “That's definitely a goal coming into the week,” said Wu, who will miss graduation ceremonies at Stanford on Sunday. “That's something that's very attainable, I think. So, yeah, I'm happy with the position I'm in. I know it's going to take two more good rounds to end up with that honor. But I'm confident I can do it.”
Wu almost got in the championship in 2017 at Erin Hills. As the first alternate, he spent the days leading up to the championship practicing on the grounds, but no one withdrew.
His form was not in question when he arrived at Pebble Beach, not only playing well enough to qualify, but also going 3-0 in match play to lead Stanford’s march to victory.
Wu, who competed in the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach last year but did not advance to match play, converted five birdies on Friday against a bogey and one double bogey. He was 4 under par and only three behind Justin Rose, who was then leading the championship, before giving a few strokes back.
“I think I hit my first four or five greens to start, and that was definitely good. Made some putts, and, yeah, just kind of cruised from there,” said the product design major who as a youngster lived in Beijing, China, for five years and now calls Scarsdale, N.Y., home.
Fueling his effort was steady driving and his iron play; he hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation, tied for second-best in the field in the second round.
Having already proved his brashness and backed it up with his play in the Columbus sectional, Wu was forthright when asked if he were only striving for low-amateur honors or did he dare to think he had a chance to become the first amateur in 86 years to win the championship.
“A little bit of both,” he replied. “I think one step at a time in a sense, but, yeah, when I was out there 4 under through 10, I was like, OK, I'm three shots off the lead. If I can just continue to make birdies, then I'm right in the mix.
“At the end of the day, it's just a golf tournament,” he added. “Obviously it's the U.S. Open, and it's a really big one, but I'm just trying to play golf and play my best.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.