FORT WORTH, Texas -- The theory of relativity is alive and well in the qualifying process for the 2011 U.S. Open.
Examples: Sam Saunders, grandson of 1960 Open champ Arnold Palmer, will be in the field next week at Congressional Country Club. So will Steve Irwin, son of three-time Open champ Hale Irwin.
Both players made it through qualifying rounds Monday. Both will be playing for the first time as U.S. Open competitors in Bethesda, Md., seeking to follow in the footsteps of their famous relatives.
If you're looking for one to outshine the other in the Open spotlight, the logical choice is Saunders. The former Clemson golfer, 23, is trying to make it as a touring pro and will compete at this week's PGA Tour stop, the FedEx St. Jude Classic, on a sponsor's exemption.
Irwin, 36, is a lifelong amateur and president of his father's course-design business, Hale Irwin Golf Services. A resident of Arvada, Colo., Irwin posted rounds of 67-71 to become one of three amateurs who made it through a five-spot qualifier in Glendale, Calif.
Regardless of what happens at Congressional, Irwin's future in golf revolves around routing holes and reading blueprints. For Saunders, it's all about making clutch putts.
That is why he shed tears after sinking a par putt on Monday's first playoff hole in Vero Beach, Fla., to secure his first berth in one of golf's major championships.
"I've wanted to play in a major so bad for so long," Saunders told a reporter from PGATour.com after his round. "Obviously, I've played in a lot of tour events. But I'm not dumb; I know why I get tour exemptions.
It's because of my granddad. Anybody else would do the same thing. To earn this just feels really good." For the record, Saunders -- who does not have exempt status on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour -- will be making his 15th career appearance in a tour event this week in Memphis Tenn.
All have come via sponsors' exemptions. He has made only five cuts in his first 14 tour starts, but two have come this season: a tie for 15th at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and a tie for 30th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
How well that translates to Congressional is anyone's guess. But Saunders is optimistic, in part because he earned the right to make his 16th start at a PGA Tour event and in part because he likes the 8USGA's punitive course setup for Open venues.
"I've wanted to play in a U.S. Open for so long because I feel like it fits my game so well," Saunders said. "I drive it straight.... You have to have a good short game. My expectations are to get myself into contention to win."
Clearly, Saunders and Irwin have the bluest bloodlines among the under-the-radar qualifiers at next week's U.S. Open. But they are far from alone when it comes to surprise qualifiers with fascinating storylines. Some others to monitor next week at Congressional:
-- Four of the past six finalists for the Ben Hogan Award, given annually to the top player in college golf during a ceremony in Fort Worth, will compete. The list includes 2011 recipient Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State, who earned an exemption as the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion, as well as three others who qualified: 2011 finalist Patrick Cantlay, who just completed his freshman season at UCLA; Alabama's Bud Cauley, a 2010 finalist who shared medalist honors at the Memphis qualifier; and Georgia's Russell Henley, a 2010 finalist who qualified in Ball Ground, Ga. Henley, who tied for low amateur honors at the 2010 Open, won a 2011 Nationwide Tour event on May 8 (Stadion Classic in Athens, Ga.) while competing as an amateur.
-- South Korea's S.Y. Noh, a 20-year-old who won a 2010 European Tour event (Malaysian Open), qualified in Springfield, Ohio.
-- Fred Funk, a Champions Tour competitor and former golf coach at Maryland, earned a berth in the field. Funk turns 55 on Tuesday, two days before the opening round.
-- Ty Tryon, who earned a 2001 PGA Tour card at qualifying school as a 17-year-old, landed an Open berth. Tryon, now 27 and a married father of two children, has played in exactly one PGA Tour event since 2003: last year's Open, where he missed the cut. Tryon will tune up for Congressional by competing in this week's Nationwide Tour event, the Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C., on a sponsor's exemption.
-- Michael Whitehead, the first alternate from Monday's qualifier in Dallas who joined the field Tuesday as the replacement for the injured Tiger Woods. Whitehead, a Rice graduate, called it "kind or surreal" to be replacing a 14-time major champion at Congressional.