THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Tony Gil is beginning to feel at home in these parts.
Gil, 16, of Vaughan, Ontario, Canada, intends to play for the University of Houston starting in the fall of 2016. But the future Cougar extended his current stay at the 67th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Club at Carlton Woods on Wednesday with a 2-up opening-round victory over Easton Paxton, of Riverton, Wyo.
I really like Houston, Gil said. It’s a great city and I can’t wait to get down here.
Gil, playing in his first USGA championship, is playing Andy Zhang, of the People’s Republic of China, in Thursday morning’s round of 32.
I am quite pleased with how I am doing so far, said Gil, who has little match play experience. It would be nice if I go a bit further, but it’s a really good experience.
Winning can have that effect.
Gil’s match against Paxton, though, showed him how unpredictable match play can be. Gil won the second hole and rolled to a 5-up lead through the 10th hole.
Paxton, who played in last week’s U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, was 6 over given the usual match play concessions through the 10th hole, but won the next four holes with a par, birdie, eagle and birdie.
I wasn’t playing [conservative] golf, I went from 5 up to 1 up and those four holes sort of rattled me. Then the next hole, No. 15, I pulled my ball into the hazard and I also lost that hole, said Gil, whose match was dramatically all square.
Gil won the 16th with a par, halved the 17th and then benefitted from Paxton’s aggressive play on the 539-yard, par-5 18th. Paxton went for broke on his second shot, attempting to reach the green over water but came up short in the hazard.
The win was a reality check for Gil.
I was really down on myself, he said. I had some doubts that I might lose. From actually leading 5 up and to lose, that’s not very good is it? It was just a grind on the back nine. I was playing well throughout the day. He was playing really well too. He deserves a high five or something.
Gil deserves some credit. He did not reach this point at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course without possessing an abundance talent.
In August, he was selected as a member of Golf Canada’s Development Squad and then recorded victories at the Canadian Junior Golf Association’s International Junior Challenge and the Golf Association of Ontario Investors Group Junior Spring Classic.
He also finished sixth at the South American Amateur and 37th at the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup in Japan. Next month, he will represent Canada at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
Gil’s association with Golf Canada also opened the door for his commitment to Houston, which features four players who hail from Canada.
A lot of guys on their roster right now are from Canada and I’m good friends with them, Gil said. And Toronto and Houston are somewhat similar.
So despite the difference in climate, Gil should indeed feel right at home.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.