JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – As befits his background as a lawyer, Richard Grice chooses his words carefully when he discusses the aggressive play of his young charge, Gunn Yang.
"If I was his coach, one thing I would probably say is that he might want to be more versatile," said Grice, a member of the Atlanta Athletic Club’s board of directors who is serving as Yang’s caddie this week.
That’s versatile, as in occasionally selecting a club other than driver from the tee. Yang has reached Saturday’s semifinal round of the U.S. Amateur by playing aggressively, and that style was no more evident than on the 18th hole of his quarterfinal match on Friday, after Yang had just taken a 1-up lead on Cameron Young.
Yang took on the dogleg of the par-5 hole with his tee shot, which struck the rock wall lining the water hazard to the left of the fairway. One foot to the left, and he might have been heading for extra holes. Instead, his ball bounded forward off the wall and he comfortably reached the green from 135 yards out, leading to a berth in the semifinals against Frederick Wedel.
Afterward, Yang explained, "Whenever I play too passive, sometimes it goes wrong."
A native of the Republic of Korea who also spent five years in Australia, Yang is entering his sophomore year at San Diego State after graduating from nearby Torrey Pines High School. Yang came to Atlanta Athletic Club as one of about 50 competitors in the 312-player field who needed a caddie. According to Grice, who is in his fifth year on the AAC board, club members filled all the caddie slots.
"Gunn is a serious player, and I have some experience caddieing for my daughter [Savannah], who now plays at Dartmouth College," said Grice, 55, who plays to a 9 handicap. "I’ve caddied for him since the first practice round last Saturday."
Grice freely admits that he would not necessarily recommend all the clubs and lines of attack that Yang has chosen. But he can’t argue with his player’s success, which includes taking out the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, Ollie Schniederjans of nearby Georgia Tech, in the Round of 16 on Thursday.
Over the week, it’s progressed and we’re having more discussions about it, said Grice, who works at Alston and Bird, the law firm where Bob Jones was once a partner. The lawyer in me takes over and I say, let’s play the percentages. But he wants driver, so let’s play the driver. He’s in the semis, so who am I to argue?
Grice has volunteered at previous championships at the club, including PGA Championships in 2001 and 2011, but he is relishing this week’s role more than his past duties as a marshal.
"I like to be out on the course anyway, and I thought caddieing would be pretty cool," said Grice. "These guys are so good, watching this level of competition and being a part of it is fun. I’m not sure I bargained for the entire week – no offense to Gunn, but just the odds of going this far… I was dreading yesterday [Thursday’s double-round of matches] a little bit, but it’s been fine. I’m getting my exercise."
Grice also feels an obvious pride in the club’s role in the 114th playing of the USGA’s oldest championship.
"It’s part of our heritage to host these kinds of competitions," said the 24-year member. "We love this event and know how important it is to the USGA. We want to put on the best possible event that we can. It’s part of our mission statement."
Indeed, the last part of the club declaration reads, … while preserving our heritage, traditions and reputation for championship golf.
In this championship, Yang and Grice have encountered the par-4 13th hole on the Highlands Course five times, with four pars and a bogey. His results on the 364-yard hole have reinforced Yang’s penchant for aggressive play.
"If I hit 3-iron to just lay up on the left side, then sometimes it ended up in the bunker; I would say that’s in the bad area," said Yang. "So I think that just makes me a more aggressive player, just trying to put the driver in the fairway close to the hole."
So far, closer to the hole has brought Yang ever closer to the championship match.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.