Masters champ Danny Willett, other ASN golfers ready for major challenge at U.S. Open


Fresh off his 2016 Masters victory, former Jacksonville State golfer Danny Willett will look to add the 2016 U.S. Open title to his resume when the 116th version of the tournament gets underway at Oakmont Country Club on Thursday.

Willett carded a final round 67 to top defending Masters champ Jordan Spieth for his first major title. While at JSU, Willett was the 2006 OVC champion. As the winner of the season’s first major, he’s the only golfer with a shot at the Grand Slam, including the British Open and PGA Championship.

“It’s just nice that we have got that chance,” Willett said Tuesday. “What comes of that, you don’t really know. But yeah, we’re going to try to get prepped, and hopefully come Sunday we’re somewhere there or thereabouts to give you that little bit of a feeling that, yeah, this is actually possible.”

First things first, and Willett knows the U.S. Open will be a major challenge, as he tweeted Wednesday:

Willett will be joined in the U.S. Open field by several other golfers from ASN partner schools, including Drexel’s Christopher Crawford.

Crawford qualified by tying for third at the sectional qualifier at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J. Crawford, Drexel’s first CAA player of the year (2015), is the first golfer from Drexel to qualify for the Open.

He did not take an easy route to the Open: He had to hole a 40-foot birdie putt to get the final spot with a 36-hole total of 6-under 138.

Former UAB golfer Graeme McDowell, the first U.S. Open winner since Tony Jacklin in 1970 when he won in 2010 at Pebble Beach, is also in the field. He came close to his second Open victory in 2012 at The Olympic Club, where he tied for second. His last PGA Tour win was in November in a playoff at the OHL Classic.

Fan favorite Smylie Kaufman, who was in the final Masters pairing with Spieth and whose grandfather Alan Kaufman coached at UAB, also earned a spot in the field.

Sebastian Soderberg of Sweden outlasted Jeeve Milka Singh in a five-hole playoff for the last spot in England’s sectional qualifier. Soderberg, the 2013 Big South Conference Player of the Year at Coastal Carolina, will make his major championship debut at Oakmont. He’ll be joined in the field by former Chanticleers star Dustin Johnson, a three-time Big South Player of the Year and nine-time winner on the PGA Tour.

William McGirt, the 2001 Big South champion and the first former Wofford player to win on the PGA Tour, will make his U.S. Open debut after winning the Memorial Tournament on June 5.

Representing the MAC, Patrick Wilkes-Krier was an Academic All-American at Ball State, where he was team captain his junior and senior seasons. Wilkes-Krier, an instructor at Miles of Golf in Ann Arbor, Mich., will be competing in his first Open.

Bryson DeChambeau gave up a chance to be fully exempt into the Open by virtue of his U.S. Amateur victory in August by turning professional after this year’s Masters. DeChambeau was a physics major at SMU and became the fifth golfer to win the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same season, joining Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore.

• U.S. Open pairings, tee times

Above: Danny Willett, who won the Masters in April, goes for his second major this week in the U.S. Open. (Courtesy JSU Athletics)