Armstrong A Quick Learner at Oakland Hills August 16, 2016 | Bloomfield Township, Pa. By Stuart Hall

Dawson Armstrong has adjusted quite well to the challenge of Oakland Hills in his second U.S. Amateur appearance. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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For as long as Dawson Armstrong can remember, after tournaments his father Dale would ask him a simple question: “Why do you play?”

And Armstrong, 20, of Brentwood, Tenn., has always given a pat, if not annoying, response.

“To learn,” he answers, mimicking how he would answer his father. “He’s always asked that because you always have to take a learning experience from it. Learn something from today – what I do well – and only take positives from it.”

Tuesday’s second round of the 116th U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club’s South Course offered Armstrong numerous learning opportunities.

Playing in a myriad of weather conditions other than sunshine and calm winds, Armstrong got the better of Donald Ross’ design for 13 holes, sitting at 3 under with no bogeys. He finished with three bogeys in the final five holes to shoot an even-par 70.

As the afternoon progressed, Armstrong was the clubhouse co-leader with Gavin Hall at 6-under 134, a lock to advance to the 64-player match play portion that begins on Wednesday.

“I’m feeling really good and don’t take those last five holes as negatives,” he said. “I learned how to play from really wet conditions. The last time I was in this position I didn’t finish strong, either. This time, I really felt like I was in a patient mindset and I feel really good about my game these coming few days.”

That “last time” was in late June at the Northeast Amateur in Rumford, R.I. Armstrong was 7 under through 14 holes at Wannamoisett Country Club before he made bogey on three of the final four holes. He settled for a 65 and a share of the first-round lead before finishing the week tied for 16th.

The result was a microcosm of Armstrong’s winless summer. And yet it’s also a better summer than a year ago when he emerged on the national landscape by winning the Dogwood Invitational and the Western Amateur.

The Western Amateur win was memorable because his father was on the bag and he defeated notable college players such as Jordan Niebrugge (Oklahoma State) and Robby Shelton (Alabama) to reach the final against Aaron Wise (Oregon). On the championship’s 20th hole, Armstrong holed out for eagle from 20 yards to win.

“I think I’m much better than last summer,” said Armstrong, who is No. 36 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and missed the cut in his lone U.S. Amateur appearance two years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club. “This is the first week all summer that I have had the mindset of just relax and actually play golf and not worry about the external issues.”

Otherwise, Armstrong, a junior at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., says he has been practicing harder and with more intent than a year ago. He believes all areas of his game, except for the results, are “more tight.”

He has shown that last summer was not an aberration by winning two titles during this past collegiate season and being named the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year.

His only obstacle appears to be mental, and that is being addressed.

“[The mental game] was there for two or three weeks last year, and the results have shown that I played better last summer, but I feel very confident that I’m getting better.”

Confident enough to even shake off Tuesday’s late-round stumble.

After being informed that the South Course is known as “The Monster,” he laughed.

“Is this course really called The Monster?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s a nightmare is what it is. It’s a lot of fun. It’s either a dream come true or a nightmare.”

At the South Course’s expense, Armstrong is hopeful of making a personal dream come true – and learning along the way.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.

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