Smart Play Keeps Lawrence's Hopes Alive August 18, 2017 | PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Playing in his first USGA championship, Mark Lawrence Jr. of Richmond, Va., displayed a deft touch with the putter in his quarterfinal victory. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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When Mark Lawrence hit his tee shot to the right on the 310-yard, par-4 10th hole, he knew it was no time to be a hero in his first U.S. Amateur Championship.

Lawrence was all square in his quarterfinal match against Dawson Armstrong, and the tiny 10th at The Riviera Country Club featured a hole location on the right side of the green on Friday, leaving Lawrence with a minuscule chance of landing and stopping a shot near the hole. He opted to pitch his ball about 20 yards to his left, putting him at the entrance to the narrow putting surface with a chip up the length of the green.

“That’s the hardest 310-yard hole I’ve ever played,” said Lawrence, 20, of Richmond, Va. “The angle is everything on that hole, and I didn’t hit my hybrid [tee shot] well. But when I saw where [Armstrong] was, I figured that if I can get away with par, I’m not going to lose the hole. He needed to hit a perfect shot there to make birdie.”

Indeed, Lawrence saved his par with a superb chip to within a foot, and the 10th claimed another victim when Armstrong tried to play a flop shot from where his tee shot ended up, behind the green. The ball landed long, in the bunker, and after taking two shots to extricate himself from the sand, Armstrong was 1 down. He lost Nos. 11 and 12 to Lawrence birdies, and the match was essentially decided.

“The course was playing incredibly hard today,” said Lawrence. “It was just a grind, and a lot of times par was a good score.”

Lawrence, who transferred to Virginia Tech in his home state last fall after a year at Auburn, made his birdie on the par-5 11th from 10 yards short of the green, using his putter to get the ball within 3 feet of the hole, then sank a curling 25-footer for the 3-up lead on the 465-yard 12th.

“This kind of grass grabs the ball when it lands, but when it comes to rolling it, it actually rolls pretty well,” said Lawrence, who followed in his father’s footsteps by winning the Virginia State Amateur in July. “I was just trying to get it inside 10 feet and have a good chance at birdie.”

Armstrong burned the edge for birdie from off the green on both the 11th and 12th, and he had hard luck on a couple of other putts later in the match before his three-putt on No. 16 ended it.

“I felt like if just one of them would have fallen, it wouldn’t have changed the momentum, but it at least would have stalled it a little bit,” said Armstrong, 21, of Brentwood, Tenn., who fell ill with food poisoning Thursday night and gritted out the match despite his sickness. “I was worried this morning that I might have to concede the match. Mark is obviously playing in the semifinal of the U.S. Amateur for a reason. I think he’s a great player.”

“It’s just really unfortunate timing,” said Lawrence of Armstrong’s illness. “I’m sure he’ll be in this position in years to come. Even with him not feeling well, he’s still a pretty darn good player. I had to play really well to beat him.”

At No. 386 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, Lawrence was by far the lowest-ranked of the eight quarterfinalists, but he has played well and shown some grit. On Thursday morning, he had a match on where he lost a 5-up lead and came back to edge Tyler Strafaci, 1 up, with a birdie on the 18th hole.

“At the beginning of the week my ball-striking pretty much felt spot-on, but it hasn’t been as great the last couple of days,” Lawrence admitted. “But as difficult as the course has been playing, it’s a lot of getting up and downs and making putts. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve made some putts.”

He is certainly making the most of good fortune.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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