Daily Digest: Highsmith Ousts Orischak; Shore Reps Tennessee; Xiong Acing Art of the Ace July 20, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn. By Joey Flyntz and David Shefter, USGA

U.S. Junior Amateur Home

While not exactly a shot-making exhibition down the stretch, the Round-of-64 match between Joe Highsmith and Andrew Orischak was one of the most intriguing on Wednesday in the 69th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Honors Course.

Orischak, 17, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., was trying to avenge last year’s loss in the U.S. Junior championship match at Colleton River Plantation Club, which he lost in 37 holes to Philip Barbaree after leading by five with eight holes remaining. Highsmith, who lost in the Round of 64 last year, was also looking to take the next step.

Like last year, Orischak held a late lead, but Highsmith, 16, of Lakewood, Wash., rallied to square the match with winning birdies on 15 and 16.

"I didn't feel too intimidated,” said Highsmith about playing against the 2015 runner-up. “I knew if I played my game, I would have a good chance. He got it going a little bit with birdies on 10 and 11, but I was able to hang in and make a couple clutch birdie putts coming down the stretch."

After halving 18 with bogeys, nerves were evident on both sides on the 19th hole, the 405-yard, par-4 first. Neither player hit driver, but both went way left into a waste area anyway. Both missed long on their second shots, but Highsmith was in much worse shape in a deep, right greenside bunker, with Orischak atop a mound behind the flag.

When Highsmith’s bunker blast rolled off the other side of the green, it appeared Orischak would advance.

"I said, ‘I’m so done over there.’ That flag with that bunker, you're just done,” said Highsmith. “I did probably as well as I could have from there."

But Highsmith putted to 3 feet and watched as Orischak chunked two consecutive chips and then left a bogey putt well short before conceding the match.

For Highsmith, who admitted he didn’t expect to win after his third shot, it was a step in the right direction. For Orishak, it was another disappointment. Fortunately for him, the USGA’s announcement on Wednesday that the age limit will increase to 18 starting next year will allow him another opportunity to hoist the trophy.

Davis Shore was determined not to lose his first-round match in this year's championship, and he fulfilled that goal on Wednesday. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

Survival Test

Davis Shore watched and hoped. His 5-foot par putt on the 18th hole trickled ever so slowly toward its destination, and when it disappeared, Shore momentarily bowed to the heavens.

Was he praying or just relieved?

“I think I was just exhausted,” said Shore after a nail-biting 1-up win over Wells Padgett in the Round of 64. “That was the toughest match I have ever played, for sure.”

Of the three Tennessee golfers in this week’s field, Shore was the only one to qualify for match play. And the 17-year-old from Knoxville didn’t want to suffer the same fate as last year when he was eliminated in his opening match.

Padgett, 17, of Wichita, Kan., made Shore sweat the entire match. A hole-out for an eagle-2 on the fourth hole had Shore wondering if this was going to be a repeat of 2015 when Will Chandler beat him, 3 and 1. But on the inward nine, Shore played some awe-inspiring golf. His approach on 12 over a tree stopped 5 feet from the flagstick to set up a hole-halving birdie. He birdied 14 and 15 to take a 1-up lead, then made a 15-foot bogey putt on the par-3 16th to halve the hole after his tee shot found the water.

Padgett squared the match by reaching the par-5 17th in two, but his drive on 18 went right and all he could do is punch out. Meanwhile, Shore found one of his few fairways in the match and his approach stopped 30 feet behind the flag. Padgett had to punch out and failed to get up and down for par, leaving Shore, who lagged his birdie putt to 5 feet, with a chance to win the match.

“I just touched it,” he said. “If it goes in, great, and if it doesn’t, we play another hole. I didn’t want to go extra holes. Not against him. He’s an unbelievable player. He didn’t really deserve to lose today.”

Shore and Padgett had never met before the match, but they could see each other a lot in the future. Shore has committed to attend the University of Alabama in 2017, and Padgett is headed to rival Auburn University. But on this day, Shore was happy to advance in front of a small group of family and friends who made the short 90-minute drive down I-75.

“I told myself I am not going home today,” said Shore. “And somehow I pulled it out.”

Ace in the Hole

Norman Xiong didn’t need any holes-in-one to eliminate his Round-of-64 opponent, James Song, on Wednesday. Seven birdies provided enough fuel for Xiong to post a 5-and-4 win.

But few would be surprised if he had an ace this week. Xiong, 17, of Canyon Lake, Calif., has made 25 since taking up the game 13 years ago in his native Guam. That is not a misprint.

Approximately half came on a par-3 course near his family’s home in the San Diego area. His last in competition came in November during the stroke-play portion of the Polo Junior Golf Classic at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“It’s crazy,” said Xiong, who faces Noah Goodwin, of Corinth, Texas, in the Round of 32 on Thursday morning. “[My friends] are amazed. They don’t believe it.”

Golf Digest magazine rates the odds of a tour professional making a hole-in-one at 3,000-to-1. For a low-handicap golfer, it goes to 5,000-to-1, and it’s 12,000-to-1 for an average golfer.

The odds of doing it 25 times in a span of 13 years? NASA scientists might need to be called in.

Xiong, however, would be quite content with just making birdies and advancing in his first USGA championship appearance.

A rising senior at Temescal Canyon High, Xiong plans to graduate in December and enroll early at the University of Oregon, where he’ll play for the defending-champion Ducks in the spring. Oregon lost two seniors and sophomore All-American Aaron Wise after taking the 2016 title on its home course, Eugene Country Club.

“I think I am ready for [college],” said Xiong. “I just feel comfortable [enrolling early]. It kind of just felt right.”

Like making a hole-in-one.

Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org. David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org

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