The tee shot sailed too far right and kept going, bounding up the concrete path, across the rocks and up against the chain link fence that runs along the train tracks bordering the 16th fairway at Chambers Bay.
Branden Grace was tied atop the Sunday leaderboard at the U.S. Open with three holes to play, the 27-year-old South African with the No. 40 world ranking hanging in against players with more recognizable names and more experience playing under such pressure.
So it was that he pushed that 3-wood out of bounds off the 16th tee, forcing him to take a penalty stroke and reload. He eventually carded a double-bogey 6, an unfortunate score that dropped him three shots back of the lead and all but ended his hope of giving this Open an unlikely champion.
When his birdie try on the 17th hole didn’t fall, that was that.
“(I) gave myself the opportunity to actually have a chance to win it,” Grace said after finishing 3-under for the tournament, two shots behind winner Jordan Spieth, “and just one bad swing cost me at the end.”
Grace otherwise managed Chambers Bay well. Before the disastrous 16th, his only bogey Sunday came on the par-4 fifth, and he offset that with birdies on Nos. 9 and 12, though a left-to-right birdie attempt from 17 feet on the 11th hole lipped out.
He walked to the 16th tee at 5-under par, tied with Spieth, his playing partner. Those two, along with Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, began Sunday’s round as co-leaders at 4-under par.
It was Grace’s 3-wood, a trusty weapon on this drama-filled championship Sunday, with which Grace struck the tee shot that buried him. His ball immediately veered far right, landed on the walking path beside the fairway, bounced about eight times, then stuck beneath that fence — golf course to the left, train tracks and Puget Sound to the right.
“I was hitting my 3-wood great the whole day,” Grace said. “Some good under pressure shots with the 3-wood when I had to do it. A straightforward shot — just spun out of it, and that’s costly.”
He finished in a tie for fourth place, for which he will take home $407,037.
And Grace said he will forever relish the week he had at Chambers Bay, in spite of the swing he’d rather forget.
“This whole week was a great experience,” Grace said. “I hit the ball great. I played some great golf under the pressure. This is definitely the most pressure I’ve had to deal with in my professional career so far. It’s a pity it came down to this. If I didn’t win, I would have liked to have finished second or something around there. Like I said, didn’t really do a lot wrong. The swing kept up — just one bad swing that cost me.”