'He can compete with anybody in the world'


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Four former Illinois men's golfer are among the field of 156 players that will tee off on Thursday during the first round of the 119th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in golf's third major this year. Sports editor MATT DANIELS caught up with Illini coach Mike Small to get his thoughts on the quartet of Charlie Danielson, Luke Guthrie, Nick Hardy and Thomas Pieters before the first round begins:

Charlie Danielson

Age: 25

Tee time: 2:52 p.m.

How he made the field: Danielson, who played on the PGA Tour Canada in 2017 before undergoing knee surgery, advanced out of a local qualifier in Chaska, Minn., on May 13 by carding a 66. He then shot a two-round total of 4-under 137 at a 36-hole sectional qualifier in Dallas on May 20 to punch his ticket to Pebble Beach.

Previous U.S. Open experience: The Wisconsin native played in 2016 as an amateur, missing the cut at Oakmont Country Club by shooting a two-day total of 19-over 159.

Mike Small says ... "I'm so excited for Charlie and the success that he's had of late. Undergoing major knee surgery about a year ago has really set him back, but he's healthy now, and I'm excited to see his progression begin. If Charlie hits a good percentage of the fairways, his talent should give him the opportunity to play late into the weekend."

Luke Guthrie

Age: 29

Tee time: 2:52 p.m.

How he made the field: Guthrie has played well on the Web.com Tour this season, posting three Top-10 finishes in the last month. He topped the 121-player field at a sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, on June 3 with a two-round total of 11-under 131.

Previous U.S. Open experience: The Quincy native qualified and played in the 2013 tournament at Merion Golf Club and again during the 2014 tournament at Pinehurst, but missed the cut in both events.

Mike Small says ... "In my opinion, he needs to keep the quiet mind that he has and continue using his momentum, and he will have a successful week at Pebble Beach. He's been on this stage before, and even though it has been a few years, you never forget it. If Luke can continue to play with the confidence and mental strength he's shown the last few months, he should be very competitive in this tournament."

Nick Hardy

Age: 23

Tee time: 10:57 a.m.

How he made the field: The Northbrook native started out by shooting a 71 at a local qualifier in Barrington on May 9 to keep his hopes alive and then tied for first at a sectional qualifier on June 3 in Springfield, Ohio, with a two-round total of 134 to book his trip to California.

Previous U.S. Open experience: Hardy is no stranger to this major despite Pebble Beach being his first time playing the U.S. Open as a pro. He qualified twice before as an amateur, tying for 52nd in 2015 at Chambers Bay and missing the cut in 2016 at Oakmont.

Mike Small says ... "Nick is a momentum player. If he is on a positive run, he can compete with anybody in the world, even at the U.S. Open. His putting is up to the task at Pebble Beach. The poa greens are tough on that course, but putting is his strength, and I suspect he will gain shots on the field in that category."

Thomas Pieters 

Age: 27

Tee time: 3:14 p.m.

How he made the field: The Belgian — and most experienced Illini in the field when it comes to majors since this is the 11th major he'll play in — carded an 8-under 136 during a two-round qualifier on June 3 at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England to find himself among the 14 qualifiers from that sectional.

Previous U.S. Open experience: This is Pieters' second U.S. Open after he missed the cut by two strokes during the 2017 tournament at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

Mike Small says ... "Thomas' ball-striking will be his path to a successful week at Pebble Beach. He strikes the ball as well as anybody in the world, and the U.S. Open rewards consistent ball striking. If he has confidence on the greens this week and putts from the correct sides of the holes, he will once again have a chance at his third top-five finish in a major championship."