Ada, Mich. - At this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, Gavin Hall distinguishes himself as not your typical golfer.
Forget, for a moment, that he’s one of the few left-handers in the field.
In a field filled with loyal caddies, he’s not employing one. The 15-year-old from Pittsford, N.Y., is also here without his parents in tow. He plays golf and writes left-handed, but shoots hoops right-handed. He admittedly doesn’t procrastinate nor change swing coaches every five minutes.
But what has truly distinguished Hall from the rest of the field was his 10-under 62 in the second round of stroke-play qualifying at Egypt Valley Country Club, which signaled the lowest score in the 63-year history of the U.S. Junior Amateur and tied the second-lowest aggregate at any USGA championship. Only the 60 shot by Billy Horschel four years ago at the U.S. Amateur was better.
Hall’s watershed round improved his first day total of 73 by 11 strokes. Though Hall said he was excited about it, he also treated it with a shrug of the shoulders knowing that he had bigger goals entering the week. After all, a fix to the driver, little wind, and soft greens meant that 62 was out there by Hall’s calculations.
I just stayed in my rhythm. I didn’t want to do anything abnormal. I just kept with the game plan and got hot a little but coming down the stretch, which was nice, said Hall, who is making his second appearance in the U.S. Junior Amateur.
A little hot coming down the stretch. Nothing abnormal. Right. Never mind that Hall matched his first nine 31 on the inward half to break former U.S. Open champion Larry Nelson’s competitive course record of 63 set at the Foremost Insurance Championship, a Champions Tour event that took place at the club in 2000.
It’s hard to blame Hall if his expectations have ballooned in recent weeks. After all, fueled by a 63 at Oak Hill Country Club’s West Course, he recorded an 18-stroke runaway victory at last week’s Rochester District Golf Association John H. Ryan Jr. Memorial Championship. He also posted a pair of top-10 finishes in American Junior Golf Association events to begin the spring.
Though the future appears as bright as a glimmering Midwestern sunset, Hall is one who refuses to look too far ahead. As he’s shown so far, he relies on his predominant ball flight, a fade, to eliminate one side of the golf course and consistently hit shots close to the flagstick. To date, the strategy has worked to the sort of perfection few golfers can claim; he missed one green and hit all but two fairways in torching Egypt Valley on Tuesday.
Hall entered this week’s Junior Amateur trying to avenge a disappointing performance from 2009 where he shot 76-78 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., and fell short of making the match-play field of 64 in extra holes.
Despite the disappointing ending, Hall, a student at Pittsford Mendon High School, gained something valuable from the experience.
I learned never to give up. Coming down the stretch, I didn’t play as well as I needed to and the cut was really high, he says.
The lesson was obvious.
Never give up, keep fighting and keep grinding out there because anything is possible, Hall says.
Though he’d compiled an impressive 9-under 135 aggregate to earn third low qualifying honors, the slate is wiped clean when match play starts.
I’m not going to look at the seeds. You have to earn your spot and earn your way through the tournament, said Hall, who celebrated his record-setting round by being a typical teenager. He relaxed at his host family’s home, answered texts, shot baskets and watched a Detroit Tigers baseball game. I’m not going to look forward, take one shot at a time and stay in my rhythm.
I acted like [stroke play] was a tournament in its own right, Hall says. When we went into match play, everyone started fresh.
If his first-round match is any indication, the format seems to agree with him. Hall played the first seven holes against Brandon Ng of Canada in five under par, built a 5-up lead in that span and went on to post a 3-and-2 victory. He’ll face San Diego’s Alexander Schauffele in Thursday morning’s round of 32.
I just wanted to play a good round and not look too far ahead of myself because in match play, anything can happen, Hall says.
He plans to carry his own bag the rest of the way, electing instead to rely on his own instincts which have inarguably served him well. He tried having a caddie by his side on one occasion, but quickly eschewed any additional help. After all, he’s already fit the pattern as a trendsetter.
I had one caddie and it went all right, but it was just different having someone talk to me during a round, he smiles. It’s not really what I want. I like to do my own thing, really. That’s just my style.
Knowing the only certainty is that his parents are glued to a computer screen as Hall continues to advance, he hopes his time at the Junior Amateur isn’t done yet. But even 62 doesn’t grant one a free pass against a strong remaining field.
There are too many good players out here to think about the [stroke-play qualifying] score. I just wanted to come out and play a good match and I did that. On [Thursday], I have to get ready and have another good day.
It has already been a memorable couple of weeks.
Andrew Blair is the communications director for the Virginia State Golf Association. He’s contributing articles at this week's U.S. Junior Amateur for the USGA.