THE WOODLANDS, Texas – The premise that kids are resilient and can bounce back quickly was put to the test by temperatures in the mid-90s and humidity levels that reached 65 percent during Thursday’s two rounds of match play at the 67th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.
The round of 32 at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course began in the morning, and the 16 winners had one to two hours to regroup and push through the sweltering conditions for the chance to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round.
The relentless sun affected the round-of-16 victors in different ways and some used the between-match break differently.
William Zalatoris, 17, of Plano, Texas, a veteran of the heat, downplayed the home-field advantage aspect of his come-from-behind 1-up triumph over Will Dickson, of Providence, R.I. After falling behind by three after four holes, however, Zalatoris only lost two of the final 14. Maybe it was a coincidence. More likely, it was a combination of his experience and simple mid-match regimen.
It’s all about rest and hydration, he said. I’m not in the clubhouse watching ‘Friends’ reruns. … I’m big on SmartWater, which has the electrolytes to keep you hydrated.
Rest was a common theme, but not all contestants subscribed to that theory. Will Grimmer, 17, of Cincinnati, opted to hit practice balls for nearly an hour following his 5-and-4 round-of-32 win over Cole Madey.
That strategy admittedly backfired, as Grimmer, a 2014 U.S. Open competitor, dropped three of the first four holes to Anton Serafini in the afternoon.
I think tomorrow I won’t do so much practice between rounds, said Grimmer. I think I was in the heat a little too long. It’s one of the adjustments you have to make in a tournament like this.
While Zalatoris got his fill of electrolytes and avoided popular sitcoms from the 90s, and Grimmer put in some work on the range, co-medalist Sam Horsfield, 17, of England, took a different tack altogether.
I went to Whataburger, said Horsfield, who used the Texas fast-food staple to power past Zach Murray, of Australia, 1 up, to advance to the quarterfinals.
A pair of foreign-born quarterfinalists admitted they were unprepared for the conditions, but you’d never guess as much considering they posted the two most lopsided wins in the round of 16.
Andreas Halvorsen, 17, of Norway, moved to Jacksonville, Fla., last year and hasn’t yet endured Florida in mid-summer due to his travel schedule.
Yeah, obviously it’s pretty cold in Norway, said Halvorsen, who defeated Davis Shore, 4 and 3, in the round of 16.
Hailing from Perth, Australia, Curtis Luck is no stranger to temperatures in the 100s. But the muggy conditions presented a new challenge, as did a misstep when packing his bags for the U.S.
I forgot to pack shorts, said a sheepish Luck, who is one of the few players who has been seen walking the course in long pants this week. Had I known it was going to be like this, I definitely would have brought a few pairs of shorts. I’m used to heat like this, but in Perth it’s a dry heat and you don’t sweat as much.
Luck was clearly unbothered, however, as he cruised to a 5-and-4 victory over Joshua McCarthy, of Danville, Calif., in a round that included a near-ace at the par-3 12th hole.
Andy Zhang, 16, of the People’s Republic of China, is familiar with the muggy conditions as he now lives in Reunion, Fla. But he still needed a lifeline from a friendly fan to push through his 1-up win over Doc Redman in the afternoon.
I thought the weather was fine in the morning, actually. There was a nice breeze while walking some of the holes, Zhang said. But it was a lot different for my second round. I actually went and asked a spectator if I could use their sunscreen.
For 2013 U.S. Junior runner-up Davis Riley, 17, of Hattiesburg, Miss., this is old hat. Having experienced the two-match-per-day format in last year’s defeat to Scottie Scheffler, it’s reasonable to think there’s a certain advantage gathered.
Perhaps it came to fruition during the afternoon’s 2-up win against Aaron DeNucci, in which Riley trailed by three after four holes.
I think it definitely helps, knowing how to handle it, said Riley, who enjoyed a quiet lunch with fellow competitors in the locker room between matches. The break in between can throw your rhythm off. I had such a rhythm after my first round and came out slow in the second. But I’ve been there before and you just have to keep grinding.
With Friday’s forecast predicting nearly identical conditions, Saturday’s final might be determined by the two players who best battle the brutal conditions the Lone Star State is sure to offer.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.