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Gator freshman someone to watch at U.S. Open

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The U.S. Open tees off on Thursday at Oakmont Country Club in the hills of western Pennsylvania. Jordan Spieth is defending the title he won last year at Chambers Bay near Seattle.

Spieth will be among the major names competing for one of golf’s most prestigious prizes. Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day headline the field featuring the world’s best players.

Both Florida and Florida State are represented in the field of 156 players. Many who follow the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour recognize former Seminoles Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger.

They are not as likely to be familiar with current Gator Sam Horsfield. That will likely not be the case in the coming years.

Koepka comes to Oakmont playing well having finished second in his two most recent tour events, the AT&T Byron Nelson and last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn. Berger won the event.

Horsfield was one of 11 amateurs to make the field by surviving a playoff in sectional qualifying in Jacksonville for the second straight year. Not many will have played in two U.S. Opens before reaching their 20th birthday, but he will accomplish that feat when he tees off at 7:07 a.m.

Horsfield just completed his freshman year in Gainesville. On the strength of winning three tournaments, he was named the winner of the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s most outstanding freshman. He was the only freshman named as a PING First Team All-American.

“He’s a natural with the swing and with his putting stroke, but he’s a natural with his mind, too, with the way he thinks and processes information,” Gators’ Golf Coach J.C. Deacon told the Orlando Sentinel. “I’ve rarely seen him have an off day.”

The 19-year-old Horsfield was born in Manchester, England, but moved with his parents to the U.S. when he was five. He has been described as a golf phenom and caught the attention of golf coaches around the country when he was 14.

In 2011 he won the Florida Boys Junior Amateur Championship by shooting 15-under-par to win by five strokes. Two years later, Horsfield won the Florida State Amateur Championship by a whopping 11 strokes.

Thoughts of winning the U.S. Open will come later for Horsfield. Making the cut is the first order of business, something he was unable to do at Chambers Bay last year. Lowest-scoring amateur would be a terrific achievement.

The U.S. Open layout is tough enough for the professionals. From jungle-type rough to undulating greens, Oakmont is a challenge. Did I mention a 288-yard par three eighth hole?

Though he will be playing under the flag of his native country of England, Horsfield is someone to root for this weekend. However, it will not be long before he starts causing misery for the U.S. team and fans in future Ryder Cup matches.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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