Unheralded Bard is Penning Unlikely Script
August 22, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill.
By Dave Shedloski
In medieval Great Britain, a bard was a professional poet and storyteller. In the 2015 U.S. Amateur Championship, Derek Bard is weaving a tale of growing confidence and ambition as he continues his steady march through the field.
On a sun-drenched Friday at Olympia Fields Country Club, Bard authored his most impressive chapter yet, rallying from 3 down after 10 holes to stun Jon Rahm, the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, in the quarterfinal round. Bard, 20 of New Hartford, N.Y., only led for two holes, but they were the last two, and the 1-up decision pushed him into the semifinals Saturday morning against Japan’s Kenta Konishi.
“I just kind of grinded away at him today,” said Bard, who knocked off USA Walker Cup Team member Hunter Stewart in the Round of 16. “He had me early. [But] I kept a positive outlook, stayed patient and it fell my way.”
A winner earlier this summer at the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur, Bard is riding the momentum from that victory to his deep advance this week on the North Course at Olympia Fields. At No. 51 in the world, Bard is far from an unknown quantity or a long-shot pick this week. But there hasn’t been a lot of focus on the University of Virginia junior.
“I kind of like that, especially with my last two matches,” said Bard. “Hunter, All-American, Walker Cup member, I think he was fifth in the world or something; going against him, I'm a no-name. Same today. Show up, Jon Rahm, No. 1 in the world. I'm a no-name compared to him. I kind of look at it like if I win, that's fantastic. If I lose, I was supposed to lose. That kind of just makes me feel a little freer out there.”
Nothing was simple against Rahm, a native of Spain who won this year’s Ben Hogan Award as the top collegiate golfer. Despite a spectacular eagle 2 from the left rough at the par-4 eighth hole, Bard could get little traction against the Arizona State senior, who had been lighting up the course with a hot putter.
After the eagle, Bard promptly lost the next two holes by playing them in 3 over par to let Rahm open a 3-up advantage.
“Yeah, 3-down, eight to go. It's not a good position to be in,” Bard said. “But I just tried to keep it as simple as possible. I really focused on getting my drive in the fairway [on No. 12] and it was an easy pin up the front left and I had a wedge in my hand. So hit a good drive there, wedge in there, and made the putt.
“I felt like at that point, I kind of turned the tables on him and I was able to make some putts coming in and turn the match around.”
Indeed, that’s when the “no-name” said no more. Bard added a birdie on 13 for back-to-back wins and finally returned the match to all square for the first time since the first hole when Rahm bogeyed the 16th. There was another gift at the par-3 17th when Rahm’s putter betrayed him; he needed four putts on the huge green, allowing Bard to win with a bogey.
Bard finished with style, however. He sank an uphill 10-footer for par at 18 to close out the match and propel him further than he has ever gone before in a USGA championship. His best previous showing was the Round of 32 in last year's U.S. Amateur and two U.S. Junior Amateurs, in 2011 and 2012.
Has he surprised himself this week? “Yeah, maybe a little bit,” he allowed.
Then again, he said that winning the Sunnehanna with a final-round, 4-under 66, was “huge.”
“It definitely gave me momentum for the rest of the summer,” said Bard. “Following that I didn't play my best but I felt it was still there. Just trying to get it out of me and, luckily it showed up this week, and I'm playing really well – to the best of my ability.
“I'm feeling pretty good. I'm playing well. So we'll see what happens [Saturday].”
Another chapter awaits. Maybe Derek Bard can write himself a happy ending.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites.