THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Eric Bae admittedly was not driving or putting the ball well, which explains the reason for his first-round 76 and his 2-over outward nine in Tuesday’s second round of the 67th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.
I started hitting my drives really well and that put me in good position in the fairway and I started taking advantage of that, said Bae, 16, of Cary, N.C.
Bae’s putting concerns were rendered moot, as he holed out for eagle from 60 yards on the 377-yard, par-4 sixth hole and hit four more approach shots to within 3 feet en route to a championship-record 29 on his inward nine, the first nine holes at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course.
I really wasn’t thinking about what I was shooting, Bae said. After my front nine, I knew I was pretty far back from making the cut, so I just wanted to try and move up some and that’s all I thought about.
Bae’s 29 capped off a 5-under 67 and a 1-under 143 overall score that tied him for 18th and easily advanced him to Wednesday’s opening round of match play. Bae missed the cut at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur at Gold Mountain Golf Course in Bremerton, Wash.
Bae’s round was the highlight on a day in which there were a number of impressive scoring performances. Earlier in the day, Sean Crocker, 17, of Zimbabwe, tied the nine-hole championship record of 30 that had been achieved four times previously.
Also, Bae, Curtis Luck, 17, of Australia, and Justin Suh, 17, of San Jose, Calif., each improved their second-round scores by nine strokes to move inside the match-play cut line. Luck shot a 66 to shoot a 3-under 141 and tie for ninth, while Suh shot 69 (147 total).
Bae said he has posted nine-hole scores of 30 two other times.
This is just a lovely course, he said. If you just put yourself in a good position, you could take advantage of the hole locations, he said.
Like he did on his final nine on Tuesday.
Halvorsen Finds His Comfort Zone
Success has a way of smoothing out difficult situations, as Andreas Halvorsen can attest.
In August, Halvorsen, then 16, arrived at the Tom Burnett Golf Academy in St. Augustine, Fla., from Larvik, Norway. He left behind family and friends to pursue his dream of becoming a better golfer.
Shy and somewhat scared, Halvorsen said he messed up some early tournaments because he thought his game did not measure up to his fellow competitors.
But I began to learn I could play with these other kids, said Halvorsen, who shot a 4-over 148 and tied for 50th in the U.S. Junior Amateur’s stroke-play portion. There wasn’t just one moment or tournament where it happened. It’s been a progression.
Some observers might say a rapid progression considering that since August he has won five tournaments during the 2013-14 Future Collegians World Tour season. Additionally, he won the St. Augustine (Fla.) Amateur, the Florida Azalea Amateur and an American Junior Golf Association tournament. He also finished fifth at the Terra Cotta Invitational in Naples, Fla.
It really helped that I got off to a good start, said Halvorsen. That got me some good confidence and momentum and it’s continued to build.
Having missed qualifying for the U.S. Amateur by a stroke, Halvorsen will play the Western Amateur, July 28-Aug. 4, at Beverly Country Club in Chicago, before heading back to the academy for his senior year. Halvorsen chose the academy after meeting Burnett at a junior tournament in Germany that Burnett conducted a few years ago. The two kept in touch.
He has given me a good opportunity, said Halvorsen, who is mulling his post-school options, admitting he has been contacted by several schools.
Regardless, Halvorsen, who recently spent three weeks at home in Norway, is still adapting to life in the U.S.
It’s a long way, so it’s not like I can take a weekend trip back home, Halvorsen joked.
Winning, though, will continue to ease the transition.
The Recruiting Dance
Richard Sykes was finishing the final stretch of walking 27 holes at the U.S. Junior Amateur on Monday.
I’m here to see and have them see me, said Sykes, the North Carolina State University men’s golf coach who essentially summed up the fine line that players, parents and coaches are navigating at this week’s championship.
The 156-player field has attracted nearly as many college assistant and head coaches who are tracking the progress of players who have either already committed or are on their recruiting radar.
You’re still evaluating, said Michael Beard, the third-year head men’s coach at Pepperdine University. Some guys you watch for a year and a half, and maybe sometimes that is seeing to be seen, but most the time you are evaluating, getting to know their games a little better.
While NCAA recruiting rules and regulations can often cause confusion, there is a simple rule of thumb being used this week. After July 1, coaches are permitted to talk to the parents of players who graduate in 2014 or 2015, but they cannot talk to those respective players until after the tournament. All other players are off limits.
That is why coaches – many prominently wearing their school’s colors and team logo – are often seen walking alone or among each other.
The parents and kids spend a lot of money to get here, but they can’t talk to me, said Garrett Runion, an assistant coach at Louisiana State University.
That does not mean some good does not come from the week.
San Diego State University head coach Ryan Donovan will follow a player for 18 holes and not know whether he shot a 2-under 70 or a 2-over 74. At this point, he’s looking to see what a player will do on junior golf’s biggest stage.
How does he respond after making a couple of bogeys? How does he respond after making a few birdies? How does he conduct himself? Donovan said. By now, we have a good idea of how they can play, but this is the bigtime, this is what they’re going to be doing on a weekly basis in college.
There’s a whole list of things we’re evaluating, he said, and all of that comes together. Some of it is their mannerism, some of it is their golf swing, what type of shots they are playing, what their ball flight looks like. You’re just getting to know the player a little bit more. So even though we can’t talk to them, there is still a lot we can do.
The coaches interviewed agreed that their watch list is between 10 and 15 players, but Donovan added that could be one or two players they are seeing for the first time.
Not all these kids play or can afford playing all of the [junior] tournaments, so this might be some young player’s chance to show what he can do, he said.
The prospects of this week producing an unheard of talent, though, are slim.
Recruiting has become so competitive that if you think you have found a diamond in the rough, you can better believe there are plenty others who have found him as well, Beard said.
This week might appear to be a chance for coaches to position themselves better in a potential recruit’s eyes, but Runion said coaches are mostly respectful of their peers.
For the most part, we have a regional list of players we’re working off, Runion said. For us, that’s obviously guys from the Southeast, maybe from Texas since it’s a neighboring state, but you won’t find us trying to poach a kid from Washington or somewhere too far out of our region.
Donovan said schedules vary depending on the coach, but that most coaches will have seen most of what they came looking for by the end of Wednesday’s opening round of match play.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.