Shropshire Star

Midlands trio gearing up to take on the US Open

Golfing greats from around the globe are gathering in North Carolina for the start of the US Open tomorrow – and among them will be three men from the Midlands.


As attention turns to Pinehurst No.2 course and traditionally the toughest set up for any of the major championships, Wolverhampton’s Aaron Rai along with Staffordshire’s Robert Rock and Richard Mansell will be teeing it up with the best in the world.

Veteran Rock and rising star Mansell qualified for Pinehurst at Walton Heath Golf Club, in Surrey, last month.

Rai secured his ticket via the final qualifying event at the Cherry Hill Club, in Ontario, Canada, shortly afterwards.

It marks a terrific treble for Midlands golf, and here, we take a look at their prospects.

Robert Rock

One of the most popular competitors on the tour for two decades, Rock stunned not only himself but much of the golf world when he qualified for the US Open last month.

The 47-year-old, who hails from Armitage, near Rugeley, admitted he only went to the qualifying tournament to find out where his game was at. Little wonder his qualification amazed so many – it came two years after he officially retired from tournament golf.

Speaking afterwards, he commented: ““It’s a complete bonus. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I really like the look of Pinehurst.

“I’ve never been, although I turned up once when I was younger in a coachload of people and we got turned away so it will be nice to go an actually see the place!”

Rock admitted it will be tough to compete over four days of a gruelling major – he had to enlist the help of a pal to push his trolley for the second round of qualifying at Walton Heath.

Indeed, it is 12 years since he last made it to the US Open – and that year was proved his career highlight as it was in 2012 that he famously beat Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to lift the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship for his biggest career victory. It is entirely possible he will tip his cap to either of the sport’s legends this week.

World ranking: 2,221

Hopes: Realistically, Rock will hope to get through 36 holes unscathed after issues with his back. It would come as a big surprise if he was to make the cut but he has already surprised many by getting to Pinehurst in the first place.

Richard Mansell

The 29-year-old, from Burntwood, has often put himself into contention on the DP World Tour over the past couple of seasons but his biggest issue has been maintaining a high level of golf over four rounds.

Often tipped as one to watch on the tour, Mansell – based at Beau Desert Golf Club, near Cannock – has had an up-and-down few years.

He consistently makes the cut at the tournaments he plays in but is looking for a breakthrough result to cement himself as a top performer.

Qualifying from Walton Heath as the lowest scorer should give him confidence. He is a consistent golfer and that could help him at Pinehurst, which can prove a nightmare for anyone who gets out of position.

Mansell is playing at his second US Open after qualifying for the tournament two years ago at Brookline, Massachusetts.

He missed the cut there and will be desperate to make it through to the weekend this time.

A huge fan of Tiger Woods, he will be desperate to meet his idol on the fairways or in the locker room.

World ranking: 199

Hopes: Mansell should be looking to make the cut.

He has gained a great deal of experience over the last two years since his last qualification and has also played a couple of Open Championships on this side of the Atlantic.

Aaron Rai

A contemporary of Mansell, their paths often crossed as juniors with Rai playing for Shropshire & Herefordshire and Mansell representing Staffordshire.

After that, their careers have taken different paths. While Mansell went off to play college golf in the USA, Rai stayed here to learn his trade.

After first starting on the municipal courses of Wolverhampton, Rai went on to earn his way on to the DP World Tour on this side of the Atlantic, where he secured a couple of tournament victories.

He then took a gamble on moving to the US to compete on the second-tier Korn Ferry Tour. That paid off and he soon progressed to the top tier PGA Tour. There, he has gained a reputation of one of the steadiest performers.

The former Wolverhampton Grammar School pupil goes to Pinehurst on the back of a rich vein of form. Last month, the 29-year-old collected his biggest pay cheque of the 2024 season with a tied fourth-place finish at the CJ Cup Byron Nelson tournament.

That came after another big-earning finish at the Houston Open a month earlier.

Sometimes unfairly described as a ‘grinder’ of a golfer, his consistency from tee to green can prove a huge strength with tough US Open conditions. Recently ranked third on tour for hitting greens in regulation, if Rai gets a few putts to drop in as well, he could have a decent outsiders’ chance of doing well.

World ranking: 73

Hopes: Rai will be very disappointed if he doesn’t make the cut. He may well prove a surprise and could realistically finish in the top 20.