US Open: Wales' Rhys Enoch relishes Major chance

By Gareth VincentBBC Sport Wales

The closest Rhys Enoch has come to Tiger Woods was on the practice ground.

Yet Wales' leading male golfer feels ready to compete when he goes up against Woods, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and the rest at the US Open this week.

Enoch, the world number 358, is as long as 1500-1 with some bookmakers to triumph in what will be just the third Major of his career.

But the 30-year-old insists he is a player on the up.

He has faced tragedy away from golf - younger brother Ben was killed in a car accident 10 years ago - and has had to battle on the course since turning professional in 2012.

Now Enoch, who played college golf alongside Rickie Fowler and was paired with Patrick Reed at last year's Open, is hoping to be the next star of the Welsh game.

He is getting there, having recently become Wales' highest-ranked player for the first time.

"It's nice to be able to say that," Enoch tells BBC Sport Wales.

"It's important because (fellow Welshman) Stuart Manley (who is 25 places lower in the world rankings) will be raging! But I want to keep moving up and up.

Rhys Enoch
Rhys Enoch came through a Walton Heath qualifier alongside the likes of Thomas Pieters and Lee Slattery to claim a place at the US Open

"I have got the long hitting, which is one important thing. I have to keep putting well and refining those wedges. Then the world's your oyster."

A strong performance this week could change Enoch's life.

For the moment he plays on the Sunshine Tour - which takes place primarily in South Africa - and the Challenge Tour, the tier beneath the European Tour.

Enoch is in the US Open field having shot eight under par over 36 holes at Walton Heath a couple of weeks back, beating the likes of Lee Westwood and Ross Fisher to one of 14 available qualification spots.

Having booked his place at Pebble Beach, Enoch faced the challenge of finding affordable flights and accommodation.

He also had to arrange a caddy - Challenge Tour players tend to carry their own bags - while he has picked the brains of countryman Rhys Davies, who finished 74th when the US Open was last played at Pebble Beach nine years ago.

"The main thing Rhys said was not to be afraid of the course," Enoch says.

"People say it's so hard, there's so much rough. But if you hit the fairways and the greens it doesn't really matter."

Cornwall born and raised, Enoch had never been to Pebble Beach - one of the world's most famous courses - until he arrived in California last weekend.

He has though played plenty of golf in America.

Enoch's first love was rugby thanks chiefly to dad Steve, who was born in Swansea, grew up in Llantrisant and went to university in Cardiff.

"He is as Welsh as they come," Enoch says.

"I played rugby from minis to when I was about 14, when golf took over. I grew up as a passionate Welsh rugby fan and that's moved into golf."

Enoch's golf career began thanks to his mother, Tracy.

"I was 10 or 11. My mum wanted a sport we could all do because my dad and I would go to rugby on a Saturday and she was stuck with my brother Ben," Enoch explains.

"My mum decided we should try golf and my brother and I both picked it up pretty quickly."

It soon became apparent that the two boys had plenty of talent.

Both were representing Wales - and making a big impression in the amateur game - when Ben died aged just 19.

Rhys has his brother's nickname, Been, tattooed on his chest, and he is sure to come to mind this week.

Ben Enoch
Ben Enoch, Rhys' younger brother, also represented Wales as an amateur

Ben had been due to join his older sibling at East Tennessee State University before he was killed when driving to a tournament in Lytham.

Rhys ended up spending five years in the States, where he played with the likes of Fowler, Russell Henley, Hudson Swafford and Harris English.

"I came through with a lot of the guys (who are now) on the PGA Tour. It's nice to know you can mix it with them," he says.

Enoch rubbed shoulders with another star name, 2018 Masters champion Reed, in round three of last year's Open at Carnoustie, where he ended up finishing 67th.

"We were second off on Saturday. I thought that would be fine - nice and early," he remembers.

"Then we got to the tee. The grandstands were packed. It was six-deep right down the hole and the first green was 30-deep. Of course, Patrick had just won the Masters.

"It was unbelievable. But it's almost easier when there are that many people because you can't see anybody - it's one big blur."

Reed will be in the group in front on Thursday, when Enoch goes out with American duo Rob Oppenheim and Richard Lee.

At each of his previous Major appearances - he missed the cut at the Open in 2014 - Enoch spent time hitting balls on the range alongside Woods.

"It wasn't on purpose, just the way it worked out," he explains.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is among the favourites to win this week's US Open

"You watch Tiger for a couple of minutes and realise he is only hitting a golf ball.

"I haven't chatted to him - I am not the sort of guy to go and interrupt. But I know he is a lot more open to conversation these days, so if I see him this week maybe I will."

Enoch's father will be there to support him in the States, while he will be roared on in the south west of England and south Wales.

He lives on the outskirts of Cardiff with his uncle Simon - a former rugby player who was in the same Pontypridd side as Neil Jenkins - and practises at the Parc Golf Club near Newport under coach Neil Matthews.

"With the work Neil and I have done, I have transformed my game in the last five or six years," Enoch says.

"I just feel so much more comfortable out there. Making the cut at Carnoustie was the highlight of my career, but I hope to go better at Pebble Beach.

"I know if I play well I can be in the mix."

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC