The top of the amateur golf scene has seldom felt like a drop in the professional golf bucket this last year, and U.S. Open final qualifying was zero exception. A total of 19 amateurs will be competing in the 156-player field at the 2023 U.S. Open. 14 got through final qualifying, but that’s understating it – five players medaled across three different sites, including two of the top players in the world – Gordon Sargent and Michael Thorbjornsen. Meanwhile, five of the 19 amateurs proved themselves on the biggest weeks of the amateur calendar, and have earned exemptions into the U.S. Open.
So who are these collegians and mid-amateurs? Sure, they’ve got the amateur designation next to their names, but this group of high achievers enters the U.S. Open with plenty of potential to have a big week.
Name: Gordon Sargent
University/Year: Vanderbilt, Junior
The skinny: The top-ranked amateur medaled at the Georgia qualifying site with a 64-67 – to the surprise of few. Sargent’s rocket speed ascendance to the top of the amateur golf world is likely as fast as his astonishing swing speed that averages around 185 mph. The 20-year-old will play his second major of the year, after becoming the first D1 NCAA individual champion to earn a special invitation to the Masters.
Name: Michael Thorbjornsen
University/Year: Stanford, Senior
The skinny: This powerful hitter has a great amateur resume, but has a noticeable flair for professional events. Entering his third U.S. Open, Thorbjornsen has a few notable pro starts under his belt: A solo fourth finish from the 2022 Travelers Championship, a top-20 at the 2023 Hero Dubai Desert Classic and remains the only U.S. Junior champion to make the cut at their respective U.S. Open start.
Name: Michael Brennan
University/Year: Wake Forest, Senior
The skinny: After hitting the up-and-down of his life, Michael Brennan qualified for the first major championship of his entire career. A favorite for the Walker Cup roster, Brennan is playing some of the best golf of his career, having scooped up two big wins at the ACC Championship and the Southwestern Invitational in the spring.
Name: Nick Dunlap
University/Year: Alabama, Sophomore
The skinny: Among the qualified amateurs is a smaller crowd – a group of U.S. Junior champions – and Dunlap is the most recent of the qualifying bunch. Though it’s not his first rodeo, the USGA champion looks to make his second consecutive start a better outing, as he missed the cut in Brookline in 2022.
Name: Karl Vilips
University/Year: Stanford, Senior
The skinny: Karl Vilips co-medaled at the Woodmont qualifier along with fellow amateur Isaac Simmons, and looks to use his first U.S. Open start to turn the page of his amateur career. The Australian had a long-heralded junior career as one of the top players in his recruiting class but has struggled to replicate that same success in his collegiate career.
Name: Isaac Simmons
University/Year: Liberty, Fifth-Year
The skinny: A co-medalist beside Karl Vilips, Simmons advanced through both stages of qualifying to play his first major championship. He’ll look to build off his penultimate season of college golf, where he helped Liberty advance to the National Championship for the third time in program history.
Name: Brendan Valdes
University/Year: Auburn, Junior
The skinny: The Floridian native navigated local and final qualifying in his home state to claim a spot in his first U.S. Open. A core piece of Auburn’s season as a top-ten team, Valdes played his best season yet claiming one win and five total team wins.
Name: Christian Cavaliere
The skinny: An alumnus of Boston University, Cavaliere took to a different route than pro golf. He founded his own company, Tremont Sporting Co., which sells hats, customized headcovers, yardage books and other leather goods. He remains competitive on the Mid-Amateur scene.
Name: Omar Morales
University/Year: UCLA, Junior
The skinny: Once the top junior prospect out of Mexico, Morales is now the local kid, having spent the past two years down the road at UCLA. The team frequents LACC twice a month.
Name: Barclay Brown
University/Year: Stanford, Senior
The skinny: His first U.S. Open but not his first major, Brown’s name made headlines last summer when he shot a first-round 68 at The Open. Teams seem to be his game – he made the 2021 GB&I Walker Cup team and is one of the four Stanford players competing in this major.
Name: Preston Summerhays
University/Year: Arizona State, Junior
The skinny: Survival has been thematic in Preston Summerhays’ past two weeks. First, he sunk a playoff-winning birdie to advance Arizona State into the final match play seed at the NCAA Championship. A week after, he advanced in a 3-for-2 playoff into his second U.S. Open. One of the more notable attendees of the Summerhays family reunion.*
Name: Alexander Yang
University/Year: Stanford, Junior
The skinny: Among the Stanford quartet who have qualified for the U.S. Open. Saw a lot of success in his junior career, but has struggled on the collegiate side in his first two years in Palo Alto.
Name: Bastien Amat
University/Year: University of New Mexico, Senior
The skinny: Got in as the first alternate from the Washington qualifier. Member of the French National Team, and has claimed one collegiate win in his time at New Mexico. Is a big self-proclaimed Star Wars fan.
Name: Maxwell Moldovan
University/Year: Ohio State, Junior
The skinny: Got in as the first alternate from the Ohio qualifier after nearly a week before just missing after a 3-for-2 playoff that stretched to 8 holes. Moldovan has had some extremely consistent play on the collegiate and amateur side, including a medalist finish at the NCAA Auburn Regional and four top fives.
Name: Ben Carr
University/Year: Georgia Southern
The skinny: Exempt as a finalist in the 2022 U.S. Amateur, where he fell to Sam Bennett 1up. Has completed his eligibility at Georgia Southern, but has found a lot of momentum since his incredible U.S. Amateur run, including a win and two runner-up finishes in his final spring of collegiate golf. Carr lost his father in 2019, and carries a special ball marker dedicated to him.
Name: Wenyi Ding
University/Year: Arizona State, Freshman
The skinny: Exempt as the winner of the 2022 U.S. Junior, where he defeated the No. 1 -ranked junior Caleb Surratt 3&2. Though it might be his first U.S. Open, he’s no stranger to the professional game, having become the youngest champion on the China Tour in 2021. COVID made his college recruitment difficult, but he fired off an email to Arizona State and immediately impressed.
Name: Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira
The skinny: Exempt as the winner of the 2023 Latin America Amateur, and is the first champion to receive an exemption into the U.S. Open. Not the only illustrious championship Fernandez de Oliveira has contended in – came just short in a big runner-up finish at the Western Amateur. Won the South America Amateur in 2022.
Name: Matthew McClean
The skinny: Exempt as the winner of the 2022 U.S. Mid-Amateur, where he knocked out fellow Irishman Hugh Foley, 3&1. One of the top-ranked Mid-Amateurs in the world, his day job is optometry.
Name: Aldrich Potgieter
The skinny: Exempt as the winner of the 2022 British Amateur, where he held off a near comeback against Sam Bairstow and won 3&2. The South African dominates internationally, having claimed a victory at the African Amateur and a win at the prestigious Sage Valley Junior Amateur in his 2023.