Greg Sanfilippo joked with his U.S. Junior Amateur Championship Committee during a brief meeting Wednesday night inside the Colleton River Plantation Club’s Dye Course clubhouse that it’s a good thing he’s used a pencil this week.
With all the weather suspensions, the USGA’s director of the U.S. Junior Amateur has needed to add and erase schedules.
Rules assignments have needed to be juggled, starting times altered. And that’s on top of ensuring the championship course is set up properly each day.
“I’ve spent a good majority of my time in the afternoon with the on-site meteorologist,” said Sanfilippo, who is overseeing his fourth U.S. Junior Amateur.
The most popular statement of the week: “The next [weather] update will be in 30 minutes.”
Sanfilippo, who came to the USGA from the American Junior Golf Association, is experienced with these situations. He dealt with a myriad of weather suspensions two years ago while running the U.S. Senior Amateur at Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, N.C. In the end, the championship finished on Thursday, just a few hours later than scheduled.
This week, dangerous weather suspended play on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, forcing the second round of stroke play to be completed Wednesday and the first round of match play to conclude Thursday morning. Sunday’s second official practice round also was cut short because of an afternoon thunderstorm. A thunderstorm on Thursday created more havoc with the schedule as the Round of 16 carried into Friday morning.
Despite all these darts thrown by Mother Nature, Sanfilippo and his USGA setup team, which includes staff members Michael Sweeney, Kathy Gordon and John Van der Borght, as well as William E. Fallon from the USGA Executive Committee, who is the chairman of the U.S. Junior Championship Committee, have managed the situation with aplomb.
Of course, inclement weather also taxes the maintenance staff and Sanfilippo was quick to praise the work by Bill Hirchert, the director of grounds at Colleton River, superintendent Jason Wallace and the grounds staff.
“We would not be where we are today, in terms of the golf course, without their dedication and hard work,” said Sanfilippo. “Regardless of what we do with the schedule, we have to make sure we get the golf course right. The golf course setup is the most important thing we’ll do here this week.”
Longtime members of the Junior Amateur Committee could only remember one other championship with this many weather delays: 2002 at the Atlanta Athletic Club. That was the last time the Junior Amateur was extended to Sunday. Before that, the 1991 championship at Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Fla., was the previous Junior Amateur to be extended one day for weather.
In 2002, Derrel Curry, of Birmingham, Ala., who has served on the Junior Amateur Committee since 1993, walked 96 holes on consecutive days.
“I went 52 and then 44,” said Curry. “It was just like we were doing here [at Colleton River]. We were just trying to catch up. On the second day of match play, I had a match between a couple of highly ranked junior players and they went 26, which ended up being the second-longest match [in Junior history]. And it was about 100 degrees.”
Such are the sacrifices made by volunteer committeeman who give up their time to ensure a successful championship.
“We’re all here to do whatever it takes to make the championship fabulous,” said John Reis, who has served on the Junior Amateur Committee since 1994. “We all come here knowing we’re probably going to have weather. But we’re ready for it and we’re flexible.”
Reis served as the walking official with Match 32 in the Round of 64, but agreed to hand off his duties to a fellow committee member for Thursday’s resumption so he could be on the first tee to start the Round-of-32 matches beginning at 9 a.m. EDT. Other members of the committee agreed to stay on property longer than originally scheduled. Sanfilippo said more than 50 members were still available on Thursday.
Some, like Reis, have planned to stay through Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole championship match.
“By Saturday afternoon we’ll hopefully have a champion,” said Reis. “And if not, we’ll do it Sunday. We’re not the only championship committee that deals with weather. All of us know coming in that adjustments have to be made.”
Ogletree Ousts Hammer
Andy Ogletree is taking away plenty from the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, his first USGA championship appearance.
On Thursday, the 17-year-old from Little Rock, Miss., defeated Cole Hammer, the 15-year-old who played in last month’s U.S. Open, 5 and 4, in the Round of 32.
"I thought it was awesome,” said Ogletree of drawing Hammer in the second round. "It’s cool. He got to play in the U.S. Open and now I got to play with him."
Even better, Ogletree was able to knock off one of the field’s higher-profile names, and did so in convincing fashion.
Ogletree “got off to a slow start,” because he failed to birdie either of the first two holes, which ranked as the seventh-easiest and easiest holes, respectively, during stroke play.
Starting on the par-3 third Ogletree took command of the match, rattling off three successive birdies and four consecutive hole victories.
“A 40-footer over a ridge on the third really got me going,” said Ogletree, whose 10-foot, uphill birdie putt won the fourth hole. He was conceded a 10-foot birdie attempt on the fifth, and then won the sixth hole with a bogey to go 4 up.
Hammer won the eighth with par before Ogletree won the 12th with a conceded birdie, won the 13th with a 5-foot birdie putt and then halved the 14th with par.
Ogletree, who won his first-round match, 4 and 3, says he has not been overly stressed in what can be a demanding, pressure-packed week. He tied for eighth in stroke play with a 2-under 142 score.
“This week is the best golf I have played all summer,” said Ogletree, a rising senior at Union High School who has announced his intention to play at Georgia Tech in fall 2016. "This course is all about fairways and greens. I’ve done that and made a few putts along the way."
College Coaches Descend on Colleton River
With 156 of the best junior golfers in the world competing in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, it’s almost become an annual, unofficial college coaching convention.
More than 130 coaches from more than 100 colleges were on-site at Colleton River Plantation Club for the 68th U.S. Junior Amateur. The annual rainbow of college apparel from some of the top collegiate programs in the nation is one of the indelible images of this championship.
However, the coaches are mostly spectators this week, as it is a quiet recruiting period and they are not permitted to initiate contact with prospective recruits. Several coaches with players who have verbally pledged to attend their school will follow to show support.
The USGA appreciates their support and does what it can to help with non-recruiting efforts.
“We have a hospitality tent for them where we have pairings and player information sheets, which are done by Junior Golf Scoreboard,” said Greg Sanfilippo, the USGA’s director of the U.S. Junior Amateur. “We try to make them feel comfortable. This year, we have allowed them access to parking near the clubhouse and clubhouse access for cooling stations. Their support is great and we love having them here. We hope they come every year.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites. Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.