5 Things: Unsung players to watch at U.S. Open

Sam Saunders follows his shot from the bunker onto the 17th green during the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf.

The appeal of the U.S. Open is its, well, openness. More than half the field comes from sectional qualifiers, giving everyone from collegians to club pros a chance to live out their Cinderella stories. Here are five players without major-tour status who could hit it big this week:

1. Sam Saunders: Saunders, of course, is best known as the grandson of Arnold Palmer, the 1960 U.S. Open champion. Saunders, 23, is in the midst of his best professional season. He’s posted career-best finishes on the PGA Tour (T-15, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) and Nationwide Tour (T-10, Panama Claro Championship). Saunders, who's making his U.S. Open debut, has had past success in USGA events: he was medalist at the 2005 U.S. Junior.

2. Adam Hadwin: Hadwin, 23, is one of the top players without status on the PGA and Nationwide tours. He won on the Canadian Tour in 2010 and 2011, and finished 37th at last year’s Canadian Open after contending through 36 holes.

3. Bud Cauley: The 2009 Walker Cup team member is making his pro debut this week. Cauley, 21, turned pro after tying for first at the sectional qualifier in Tunica, Miss. He beat the likes of Sergio Garcia, Brian Gay, Chad Campbell, Lee Janzen and Rich Beem at that site.

4. Bubba Dickerson: The “other Bubba” should be known for more than sharing a name with one of golf’s new stars. Dickerson, 30, is the 2001 U.S. Amateur champion. Three top-10s on the Nationwide Tour this season have him on pace to return to the PGA tour for the first time since 2007. He’s 11th on this year’s Nationwide Tour money list.

5. Will Wilcox: Wilcox, 25, has quickly moved up pro golf’s ladder this year. He finds himself in a major after starting the season on the Hooters Tour. He earned Nationwide Tour status after Monday qualifying for this year’s Stadion Athens Classic and finishing third. He was 11th in last week’s Rex Hospital Open. Wilcox, who played college golf at Division II Clayton State, won on both the Hooters and Canadian tours last year, and won on the Hooters Tour earlier this year.

- Sean Martin

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Five amateurs to watch this week at the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

1. Peter Uihlein, Orlando, Fla.: The 2010 U.S. Amateur champion, Uihlein just finished his junior year at Oklahoma State, leading the top-ranked Cowboys to a semifinal appearance at the NCAA Championship. Uihlein, a 2009 Walker Cupper, is playing in his first U.S. Open after missing the cut at this year’s Masters. He made the cut at this year’s Transitions Championship, where he finished T-57.

2. Patrick Cantlay, Los Alamitos, Calif.: Golfweek’s top-ranked college player, Cantlay had an outstanding freshman season at UCLA, winning four times. Cantlay, who won the Phil Mickelson award (freshman of the year) and the Jack Nicklaus award (player of the year) was also a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Amateur, losing to Uihlein.

3. Russell Henley, Macon, Ga.: A virtual lock for this year’s Walker Cup team, Henley recently completed an excellent career at the University of Georgia. In addition to finishing T-16 at last year’s U.S. Open, Henley also won the Nationwide Tour’s Stadion Classic at UGA in May.

4. Beau Hossler, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.: Don’t let his TaylorMade staff bag fool you – Hossler, 16, is the youngest player in the field. Qualifying out of Glendale, Calif., Hossler also qualified for the U.S. Amateur at age 14 in 2009. Hossler was a first-team AJGA All-American and he is ranked No. 15 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings.

5. Chris Williams, Moscow, Idaho: Williams just completed his sophomore season at Washington, shot 70-68 to win by one. Williams was the 2010 Phil Mickelson Award winner as college golf’s top freshman. He was No. 22 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings this season.

– D.J. Piehowski

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