Notebook: Halvorsen’s Big Move Pays Big Dividends July 24, 2014 By Stuart Hall and Joey Flyntz, USGA

Norway's Andreas Halvorsen enjoyed a successful week at the U.S. Junior Amateur. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – There was an idea weighing on Andreas Halvorsen’s mind as he and his parents drove home from a golf tournament in May 2013.

Halvorsen, 17, wanted to gauge the possibility of leaving their Larvik, Norway, home to attend the Tom Burnett Junior Golf Academy in St. Augustine, Fla., in hopes of improving his game.

I was ready to say ‘Yes’ in about 20 seconds, said Hilda Halvorsen, Andreas’ mother, but my husband was like, ‘What?’

What mother could deny her son a dream he was passionate about pursuing? Larvik is a small town, about 65 miles southwest of Oslo, and the opportunities for her youngest son’s game were few. Winters in Norway can last nearly six months, which didn’t help matters. 

Practicing inside is just not the same as playing outside, so that was pretty much the main thing for the move, Andreas said. I was tired of practicing inside, and I didn’t think I could be as good as I wanted just practicing inside. So, I just needed to be some place better.

By August, Andreas was on a flight to the U.S. and Burnett’s academy. Halvorsen had met Burnett at a tournament the instructor conducted in Germany.

It was easy to say yes, Hilda said. We knew he really wanted this and knew he needed to be someplace else if he was going to reach his potential. It was not easy to let him go, emotionally.

Hilda was at peace with the decision. Her son has a way of processing through his decisions, so she knew this was not a whim.

When he wants or asks for something, we know he has thought it through, she said.

Andreas’ thought process was to come to America, improve his game, gain some experience and exposure against higher-quality players and then assess his progress.

At this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, Halvorsen, ranked No. 156 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, tied for 50th at 4-over-par 148 during the stroke-play portion. En route to Friday’s quarterfinal match against co-medalist and second-seeded Sam Horsfield, of England, Halvorsen knocked off seventh-seeded Ryan Ruffels, of Australia, who has qualified for next month’s U.S. Amateur Championship.

Halvorsen ultimately dropped his match to Horsfield, 1 up, but deemed the overall week a success.

Obviously a little disappointed right now, but I am sure I will look at it as a good tournament, got pretty far and I will see if I can keep the momentum of improving going on, said Halvorsen, who failed to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, but is scheduled to play in next week’s Western Amateur in Flossmoor, Ill.

Hilda will continue to travel with her son through next week before heading back to Norway. She is pleased with how Andreas is adapting to life abroad, but is not surprised. He played several sports growing up, but then settled on golf at age 11. Andreas liked to practice, which was easy to do in their small community.

For me [the attraction to golf was] you are alone, you have to depend on yourself and not a whole team, he said. It’s up to me, so if I play well, I can take the credit. If I play poorly, I’m the only one to blame.

He certainly has played well since arriving at the academy in August. He won five tournaments during the 2013-14 Future Collegians World Tour season, along with the St. Augustine (Fla.) Amateur and the Florida Azalea Amateur.

Later this year, Halvorsen, a senior at the academy, will attempt to earn his 2015 playing privileges for the Web.com Tour. He admits there are areas of his game in which he needs to button down, but believes he will be ready.

My game is close, he said.

A lot closer since when he arrived from Norway.

Finishing Hole Delivers Drama

The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus course features a dramatic par-5 finishing hole with water and bunkers in play from tee to green. The drama was in full effect at the 67th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship on Friday, as five of the six matches contested – three morning quarterfinals and both afternoon semifinals – hung in the balance heading to 18.

Davis Riley, last year’s U.S. Junior runner-up, experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum on 18.

Clinging to a 1-up lead in his quarterfinal match against a hard-charging Andy Zhang, who had just got up and down on 17 with a masterful play from the left bunker, Riley caught a break.

Zhang hooked his tee shot into pine needles on the left side and Riley, 17, of Hattiesburg, Miss., hit his right down the middle. Needing to play aggressively to win the hole and square the match, Zhang hit his second shot into the lake and all but clinched the match for Riley.

All square in his semifinal match against co-medalist Sam Horsfield, 17, of England, Riley put himself in position to win on 18. However, Riley missed a short putt before sinking a longer putt than the previous one to move to extra holes.

Riley missed another short putt for the win on the second hole (the 20th of the match) before closing things out in 21 holes.

As it was for Riley, No. 18 was also a double-edged sword for Curtis Luck, 17, of Australia.

Luck seemed to be cruising in his quarterfinal match against Will Grimmer, leading 4 up with four holes left. However, Grimmer won the next three holes to set the stage for 18.

Luck was able to use his distance advantage over Grimmer to get on in two and win with a conceded birdie.

The par 5s were a pretty big advantage for me all day, so I knew I would be in good position to win with two good shots, Luck said. On the last one, there was no water in play today, so as long as I hit it long enough, I’d be in good shape.

After nearly being chased down in the quarters, Luck played the role of pursuer in his semifinal match against William Zalatoris, 17, of Plano, Texas.

Trailing 3 down after 13, Luck won three straight holes and had a go-ahead putt on 17 go in and out when it hit the flagstick. Luck’s 18th hole played out nearly identically to Zhang’s earlier in the day. His tee shot went well left and his second nearly found the water. In the end, Zalatoris survived with a conceded birdie and advanced to Saturday’s final.

It looked like we might be headed to a 19th hole. I like this 19th hole better, Zalatoris said of the air-conditioned clubhouse.

Riley Punches Ticket to U.S. Amateur

Curtis Luck, of Australia, guesstimates the number of competitive match-play rounds he has played in his short golfing career.

Fifty? Sixty rounds, perhaps?

Something like that, said Luck, who added that match play is part of the golfing DNA in Australia. Talking to a kid I played with, he said he had never played match play, which baffled me.

That wealth of experience is one reason why Luck was so at ease en route to a semifinal berth at this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. And why it should prove beneficial in a few weeks at the U.S. Amateur Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.

I think that’s a very good thing for us, in fact I think that’s a big advantage because match play is something you really have to develop your own style and how you attack your opponent. Match play is so different than stroke play and something you have to work at over time.

The last Australian to win the U.S. Amateur was Nick Flanagan in 2003.

Nine players in this week’s field either qualified or are exempt for the U.S. Amateur –   Austin Connelly, Zecheng Dou, Dominic Foos, Will Grimmer, Sam Horsfield, Luck, Ryan Ruffels, Cameron Young and William Zalatoris.

On Friday, Davis Riley, last year’s U.S. Junior runner-up, became exempt into the U.S. Amateur as a result of reaching Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole U.S. Junior final. Riley defeated Horsfield, of England, in a 21-hole semifinal victory.

It feels great, Riley said. I missed [sectional] qualifying by three or four strokes, so getting to the finals here and qualifying was one of my goals. I’m really excited.

Of the 10 players who have now punched their tickets for Atlanta, five – Grimmer, Horsfield, Luck, Riley and Zalatoris – reached the U.S. Junior quarterfinals. 

Grimmer was down following his quarterfinal loss on Friday morning, but that disappointment is sure to have dissipated when he arrives at the U.S. Amateur.

Gaining more experience didn’t hurt, but I also gained a lot of confidence this week, said Grimmer, who finished third in stroke play, then reached the quarterfinal round. In Grimmer’s 2-up loss to Luck, he was 5 down through the 10th hole before getting to 1 down through the 17th.

So I made four birdies on the back and ground it out, so I think I proved that no matter the situation or who I’m playing against, I can somehow manage to keep myself in contention.

That is the type of instance, Luck says, that helps shape a match-play player.

You learn how good you are under pressure and what you’re capable of, and what shots you can go for, he said.  

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites. Joey Flyntz is an associate writer with the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org.