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Olympic golf spots are up for grabs at the U.S. Open

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The most demanding of the four men's golf majors tees off Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2 — the venerable North Carolina course where Payne Stewart defeated expectant dad Phil Mickelson on Fathers Day 1999 with an 18-foot par putt on the 18th hole. Stewart, who had two kids of his own, died in a plane crash just four months after the most famous of his three major wins.

As the U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst's wickedly contoured greens for the 25th anniversary of Stewart's iconic victory, there's more on the line than one of the prettiest trophies in sports and $20 million US in cash prizes, including $3.9 million to the winner. This is the final tournament in the Olympic qualifying window.

Only 60 players get to compete in the men's event in Paris this August — a tiny number compared to the 156 in the U.S. Open and even the 89 in this year's Masters. But it's not simply the top 60 in the world rankings who are invited. The top 15 are all eligible, but only up to a maximum of four players per country. Beyond the top 15, it's a max of two per country.

Judging by the current world rankings, the United States will probably be the only country with more than two players in the Olympic men's tournament. Nine Americans are in the top 15, with world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, No. 2 Xander Schauffele (the reigning Olympic champion), No. 4 Wyndham Clark (the defending U.S. Open champ) and No. 7 Collin Morikawa holding the Olympic spots right now. Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, Sahith Theegala and Brian Harman — ranked ninth through 12th — and No. 15 Keegan Bradley are among those giving