Greyling in fine company at Congressional

Christo Greyling

BETHESDA, Md. – It was easy to spot Christo Greyling on Wednesday afternoon in the foursome of South Africans who played the back nine at Congressional. He’s the only one in the group who hadn’t won a major. Actually, he’s the only one of the four who has never played in a major.

But if Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have been more successful of late, that doesn’t mean Greyling can’t keep up with his longtime golf buddies. In fact, there’s another way to tell the 28-year-old apart. He’s the one driving the ball 15-30 yards past the others this afternoon. On the 579-yard, par-5 15th hole, he hit driver/5-iron to the front of the green.

It’s not as if he’s new to tournament golf. He played at the University of Georgia, competed in four U.S. Amateurs and has experience on the Nationwide Tour as well as several mini-tours. The crowds were also new. “Sure beats paying $1,100 to tee it up on a beat-up track,” says Greyling.

These folks were thrilled that he’s willing to sign his autograph. “Do they expect us to sign on Thursday and Friday as well?” he asked a reporter.

Greyling’s a strong-looking player, with a high ball flight that has just a hint of a fade. His longtime teacher, Tom Creavy of MetroWest Golf Course in Orlando, Fla., was out with Greyling late Tuesday afternoon on an otherwise empty practice tee, making sure he didn’t succumb to a tendency to aim a bit right. And Creavy also keeps close watch on Greyling’s right elbow, which can tend to get a bit loose and throw off his downswing.

Back at the practice short-game area Tuesday evening, Greyling worked his new lob wedge to death. The careful observer of the golf swing will notice the slightest hitch in his takeaway on wedges. But it’s only a fraction of the deliberate reroute he takes when playing out of bunkers. There, Greyling takes the club straight out away from him, picks it up, drops it down inside and splashes one flawless bunker shot after another right around the hole.

Technique, of course, is only part of the modern game. Mental toughness is another. Els has been something of a mentor to Greyling since the younger South African was a teenager. It’s a role that Els sees as his self-described "duty” to future generations of golfers.

In Greyling’s case, the support and reinforcement Els provides help compensate for a certain lack of confidence that has probably held him back. As a teen, he battled a terrible case of acne. The embarrassment was compounded by a stint taking the drug Accutane – a controversial medicine that produced side effects that threw his body for a loop and unhinged his golf game. That’s all behind him, but two years ago, Greyling’s father, Ian, committed suicide – something that inevitably takes a toll..

At a U.S. Open, we tend to judge results and know or seem to care little of the behind-the-scenes. There are 156 stories out there, some more or less compelling. Greyling’s tale deserves close watch because of the late quality of his game and the path he has taken. This week, he’s just another guy who made it through local and sectional qualifying. But by week’s end – whether that comes on Friday or Sunday – his life might be a little different. At the very least, he’ll get his first major behind him.

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