As a teenager, Brandon Wu often drove past the hallowed grounds of Winged Foot Golf Club and wondered what it would be like to play the iconic venue, which sits only 10 minutes from his parents’ Scarsdale, N.Y., residence.
When he was home from school, Wu played his home course, Scarsdale Golf Club, as well as other nearby gems, such as Quaker Ridge. He even managed to play a few rounds on Winged Foot’s East Course.
This week, he’s finally getting his first taste of one of golf’s most challenging layouts.
“What better to play [the West] for the first time than at a U.S. Open,” said Wu, 23, after playing nine holes on Sunday in preparation for the 120th playing of the championship. “I think the reputation holds pretty strong here. It’s very tough, but also in immaculate shape.”
This will be Wu’s second consecutive start in the U.S. Open – his first as a professional – and both have occurred at special venues.
Last year, he enjoyed a quasi-homecoming by qualifying to play at Pebble Beach a few days after helping Stanford University capture the NCAA title. Stanford’s campus in Palo Alto, Calif., is about 90 miles north of the famed Monterey Peninsula venue. The week got even better when Wu received his Stanford diploma from USGA Executive Committee member Stuart Francis, a fellow Cardinal, behind the 18th green after tying for 35th. The school’s graduation was scheduled the same day as the final round.
How could he possibly top that?
Three weeks ago, he did. Wu entered the final round of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind., needing a low score. He was five strokes behind 54-hole leader Greyson Sigg, and because of this year’s all-exempt U.S. Open field, the USGA was offering spots to the top five points leaders in the three-event Korn Ferry Tour Series.
Having already posted a runner-up finish at the Albertsons Boise Open (the series opener), Wu figured he needed to shoot a 66 or 67 that Sunday in Indiana to garner one of the five available spots. He went one better, carding a 7-under 65 to earn his first professional victory. Besides locking in full-time status on the Korn Ferry Tour for 2021 and helping his chances of earning a promotion to the PGA Tour in 2021-22, Wu secured his place in the field at Winged Foot.
Several hundred text messages flooded his phone after Wu got in, but in this time of COVID-19, the “hometown” U.S. Open experience is diluted. With no spectators permitted, Wu’s well-wishers will have to provide support remotely.
“Last year, so many of my Stanford friends were able to come down throughout the week,” said Wu. “It would have been really awesome to have them support me out here. But I know they will be watching.”
Winged Foot’s premium on accuracy should play to Wu’s strengths. He ranks second on the Korn Ferry Tour in both greens in regulation (77.3 percent) and scoring average (68.95).
Previous big-event experiences should also benefit the easy-going Wu as he takes on the daunting A.W. Tillinghast layout.
“Plenty of people are going to get beat up about how tough the course is,” said Wu, “but for me, I’m just enjoying my time.”
Wu’s credentials are quite impressive. Last year, he became the first amateur since Joe Carr of Ireland in 1967 to qualify for both the U.S. Open and The Open Championship in the same year. He also helped the USA win a team gold medal in the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru, a week prior to earning medalist honors in the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst. He capped his amateur career in September by representing the victorious USA side in the Walker Cup Match at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England. In fact, four of his Walker Cup teammates are also in this field: 2019 U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree, John Augenstein, John Pak and Cole Hammer.
In his first pro start in the Houston Open last October, Wu tied for 16th after flirting with a top-10 finish. To Wu, it’s all part of the maturation process.
“Just getting in those moments, playing a very tough golf course with the best in the world is cool for me,” said Wu, who will likely get some PGA Tour starts this fall or next year, especially in events that are opposite WGC tournaments. “I’ve just slowly progressed. I think that makes for a better build throughout time. [Going] brick by brick instead of jumping too quickly into it. My progression has been a good one.”
One thing Wu doesn’t have to worry about this week is hotel reservations. It’s the first time he’s stayed at home in eight months, having moved to Dallas in February. That means sleeping in his own bed and enjoying his father’s Chinese cooking.
Wu was born in Danville, Calif., and lived in the People’s Republic of China (Beijing) for five years before his father took an investment banking job in New York City 10 years ago. A graduate of Deerfield (Mass.) Academy, Wu spent some time in Scarsdale after graduating from Stanford last spring. Moving to Dallas makes travel to tour events easier and provides more year-round playing opportunities. Still, he misses New York and doesn’t rule out a return to the area at some point.
For now, he’s relishing this rare opportunity to play a hometown major.
“U.S. Opens are always special, and this one is extra special,” he said. “It’s so much fun to see the course in U.S. Open conditions and compete this week.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.