A History of the Leading Amateurs at the US Open

Today’s Golfer looks back at the low amateurs at the US Open who have gone on to have successful professional careers.

Looking at the elites of today, it’s easy to forget that every one of them began the game as amateurs just like the rest of us. The beginnings of the game saw Pros and Ams compete against each other for two Major Championships – The British Open and the US Open. As we head back to Pinehurst, considered the home of Golf in America, it seems apt to look back at some of the best performances we’ve seen in this prestigious event from many of the amateurs we now know as the biggest names in the game.

Introduced in 1979, the Low Amateur Medal allows the USGA to recognize some of the brightest stars of the future and acknowledge the quality game shown in ‘the toughest test in golf.’ Here’s our pick of the winners from yesteryear that you might still know the names of!

Viktor Hovland took Low Amateur in 2019 at Pebble Beach

Viktor Hovland – 2019

The young man from Norway has been a generally solid performer in his US Open appearances. With three Top-20s in five tournament starts, his best final position was also his first outing in the Open with a T12 finish enough to not only walk away with the Low Am Medal but also take a record many amateurs would have loved to secure themselves.

With a total of 280 strokes, Hovland shot the lowest 72-hole score in US Open history, held since 1960 by Jack Nicklaus who set a previous low of 282 for the event. This was just another indicator of a superstar in the making, only reinforced by Viktor’s success since then as a professional, and we’re sure that we’ve still got the best to come from the Norwegian.

Scottie Scheffler went from Low Ametueral Medalist to World Number One

Scottie Scheffler – 2017

While hard to believe now, most of the world of golf didn’t have a clue who Scottie Scheffler was in the mid-2010s. That’s not to say his amateur career didn’t have some elite-level highlights to it, and with those with a deeper knowledge of the Am game predicting great things for him, it was a surprise to see his first appearance in the USGA’s flagship event end without making the cut after shooting a disappointing 2nd round 78 to miss out by 1-stroke after his opening 3-under 69.

The following year proved to be a far more auspicious showing for the now two-time Masters Champion. With a final score of 1-under par, Scheffler took the Low Amateur prize from fellow amateur, and now PGA competitor, Cameron Champ by one stroke. One of only thirty-one players to shoot below par for that week, this Medal proved to be just another string to the trophy-covered bow for what is currently the best player in the world.

Jon Rahm won the 2021 US Open.

Jon Rahm – 2016

Another player at the 2016 tournament alongside Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm had his talent on show from his very first Major appearance. Having qualified as the number one player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings for 2015, Rahm shot a total 7-over par at the challenging Oakmont Country Club setup, won that year by Dustin Johnson, the Arizona State University attendee would tie for 23rd in his last tournament before turning professional.

Having since gone on to win the US Open in 2021, followed by another Major victory at the 2023 Masters and numerous Ryder Cup showings, the former World Number One is never one to be underestimated, regardless of the Tour he now plays his game on.

Matt Fitzpatrick won the leading amateur prize at the 2014 US Open, then turned pro.

Matthew Fitzpatrick – 2014

The last time the US Open ventured to the then-newly renovated No.2 course, site of this year’s 124th event, two Europeans in particular were taken notice of. The first was the wire-to-wire tournament victor in Germany’s Martin Kaymer, but also with the only amateur to make the cut, Matt Fitzpatrick.

The Sheffield-born Englishman, after narrowly missing the cutline by one shot at that year’s trip to Augusta National, pushed himself to the front of the headlines by being the only Am to make the grade round the Donald Ross-designed track. Fitzpatrick, having earned his entries into three of 2014’s Majors with his US Amateur win, decided on turning professional after his success at Pinehurst foregoing a trip to that year’s British Open.

This has proven to be another correctly calculated decision for the statistics-based player, with a US Championship trophy already in the bag and a return to the location of his Low Amateur Medal possibly seeing him become the first Briton to win multiple Opens since Scotsman Alex Smith achieved so in 1910.

Jordan Spieth followed his 2012 Medal with a US Open title 3 years later

Jordan Spieth – 2012

The Dallas native has always been an intriguing watch. With 13 PGA Tour victories now in his trophy cabinet, including 3 Majors, Spieth’s aggressive style of golf has seen him pull out shots and recoveries in his career that are reminiscent of another Low Amateur winner in the great Phil Mickelson.

The public got their first real glimpse at the Texan’s play in 2012 when he won his Medal, with a final score of 7-over and a tied 21st shared with the likes of Tiger Woods and Justin Rose, Jordan followed up with his promise three years later where he took the winner’s trophy home at Chambers Bay, part of his 2015 attempt to complete the Grand Slam of Golf seeing him win the first two Majors of the year with a T4th and solo 2nd in the remaining two.

The mentor and student - Jon Rahm managed to achieve what Phil Mickelson has not.

Phil Mickelson – 1990/1991

The US Open and Phil Mickelson has to be included in some of the most frustrating relationships in golf. The six-time runner-up in this event is still in need of a US Open to secure a position in history as only the 6th player in the modern era to complete the career Grand Slam, joining his long-time rival Tiger Woods in the achievement.

Winning back-to-back Low Am Medals, broken up with a victory as an amateur in the 1991 PGA Tour Northern Telecom Open to boot, ‘Lefty’ looked set to be the biggest name in the game, up until a certain winner of the 1997 Masters wrestled that title away from him.

Now, at the age of 53, it is likely that his best days are now in the past although, as witnessed in 2021 at the USPGA Championship in Kiawah Island, once Phil The Thrill finds his rhythm even Father Time himself can’t stand in his way. With a 54th birthday to come on the final day of this year’s event, is another upset on the cards for the veteran player?

Fred Couples won the first Low Amateur Medal in US Open history

Fred Couples – 1979

A legend of the game in his own right, the winner of multiple PGA Tour and PGA Champions Tour events, the easy-going Seattleite has a unique recognition in US Open history, despite never taking the winner’s prize home himself.

In 1979, Freddie took home the first Low Amateur Medal offered by the USGA. Amateurs had competed in the US Open before, but they had never been acknowledged for their achievements until the tournament, held at Inverness Club in Ohio that year. A T48th finish gave Couples a taste of Golf’s greatest events, a taste that would finally be satiated in 1992 with a green jacket rightfully earned in Georgia.

Bobby Jones won the US Open as an amateur four times from 1923 to 1930

Bobby Jones – 1923, 1926, 1929, 1930

Okay, we’re cheating with this one. While, as we’ve said, the Low Amateur Medal was created in 1979, we don’t feel any list of successful amateurs at the US Open is complete without a small note on the only player to achieve a single-year Grand Slam in the game’s history.

Bobby Jones is a 4-time victor at the US Open and the second-to-last amateur to take home the top prize from the USGA, Johnny Goodman being the final Am to do so in 1933. A true giant of his time, Mr Jones regularly outplayed the best players of the era, with names like Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen often left in his golfing berth. Following his 1930 completion of Major titles, Bobby turned his hand to a number of other pursuits within the game, including instruction, club design, and course architecture in the construction of the most famous golf course in the world – Augusta National.

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About the author

Lewis Daff

Lewis Daff joined the Today’s Golfer digital team in 2024, having spent more than a decade in both big box golf retail and independent stores, working as a club fitter and builder.

Experienced with every level of golfer, from beginner to professional, he has achieved Master Fitter and Builder status with most major manufacturers, including Mizuno, Taylormade, and Callaway, helping him to cement both a wide and deep knowledge base. Lewis specializes in Clubs, Shafts, Training Aids, Launch Monitors and Grips.

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