Special Report: U.S. Open Golf: A South African Golfer on the Way Up

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Branden Grace en route to his triumph at the RBC Heritage tournament in April.

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Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

Caught between hitting a driver or a 3-wood, Branden Grace opted for the safer play. Except that the 3-wood proved to be not so safe.

Grace was tied for the United States Open lead last year with three holes to play, but his tee shot on the 16th at Chambers Bay started out to the right and never got the draw he wanted. The ball sailed over a boundary fence and beyond the nearby railroad tracks.

Take that swing back, and the 28-year-old South African might have been coming to the U.S. Open at Oakmont this week as the defending champion. Though his resulting double bogey got lost in the chaos of Dustin Johnson’s title-losing closing three-putt, Grace finished two shots behind Jordan Spieth, the champion, in the final count.

Now Grace is seeking to take a page from his mentor, Ernie Els, and secure his first major crown at Oakmont.

“It’s one of those things that I look back and I think it’s made me stronger,” Grace said recently of last year’s…

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