Stroke Play Round 1: 5 Things to Watch For August 14, 2017 | PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. By Michael Trostel, USGA

For the first time in its long and storied history, the first hole at Riviera Country Club will play as a par 4 in a championship. 

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A day after Sophia Schubert claimed the U.S. Women’s Amateur title at San Diego Country Club, the USGA’s “California swing” continues 120 miles to the north in Los Angeles, where this week the 117th U.S. Amateur will be conducted at The Riviera Country Club, with Bel-Air Country Club serving as the stroke-play co-host on Monday and Tuesday.

The U.S. Amateur is the USGA’s oldest championship, first played in 1895 at Newport (R.I.) Golf Club, where 32 players vied for the title. This year, there were 7,149 entries, but the competitors will be playing for the exact same thing that they were more than 120 years ago: a gold medal and the Havemeyer Trophy.

Those who have won the championship include Francis Ouimet (1914, 1931), Bob Jones (1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1930), Arnold Palmer (1954), Jack Nicklaus (1959, 1961), Phil Mickelson (1990) and Tiger Woods (1994, 1995, 1996). The best players in the amateur game will compete over the next seven days to see who will add their name to the coveted Havemeyer Trophy.

Here’s what to watch for in the first round of stroke play:

Field of Dreamers: At 312 players, the U.S. Amateur field is the largest among all USGA championships. Because of the field’s size, competitors will play one round of stroke play on Monday and Tuesday, switching courses on the second day, after which the top 64 players advance to match play at Riviera. There are 29 countries and 39 states represented in the championship. The average age of the field is 22.4, with 64-year-old George Zahringer the oldest player and 15-year-old Alec Nachmann the youngest.

Like Father, Like Son?: Hale Irwin won the last USGA championship at Riviera – the 1998 U.S. Senior Open – by making a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole. This week, his son, Steven, will look to add a Havemeyer Trophy to the Irwin family count of five USGA titles, all won by Hale (1974, 1979, 1990 U.S. Opens; 1998, 2000 U.S. Senior Opens). The 43-year-old from Arvada, Colo., is a member of the Colorado Golf Association Board of Governors and is playing in his ninth USGA championship. If he does win, the Irwins would join John and Kemp Richardson as the only two father-son duos to win USGA championships.

New Look on a Familiar Course: Two USGA championships, two PGA Championships and 54 PGA Tour Los Angeles Opens have been played at Riviera, but this week’s U.S. Amateur will be the first time that the 501-yard first hole will play as a par 4. What has generally played as one of the easiest holes at Riviera will be transformed into what is likely to be one of the course’s most challenging. Additionally, the barranca – ravines which come into play on several holes (most notably Nos. 1, 8 11 and 13) – will not be marked as hazards, allowing players to ground their clubs in those areas.

Round of 64, at 64?: Although George Zahringer is the oldest player in the field by more than six years at age 64, he is still playing golf at an extremely high level. This is his 19th U.S. Amateur, the most of any player in the field, and his first since 2007. The 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion also qualified for this year’s U.S. Senior Open and is a 10-time Metropolitan Golf Association Player of the Year. Playing in the third group off Riviera’s first tee at 7:21 a.m. PDT on Monday, Zahringer is joined by two competitors who are more than 40 years his junior – Logan Lowe, 19, and Raul Pereda De La Huerta, 21.

California Dreamin’: Fifty-one of the 312 competitors in the U.S. Amateur are from California, meaning that nearly one-sixth of the field has a chance to win in their home state. That feat has not been accomplished in this championship since Bay Area resident Nathaniel Crosby won at The Olympic Club in 1981. One group to watch will be the 1:18 p.m. PDT starting time off No. 1 at Bel-Air, featuring three California residents who compete for local universities: Justin Suh (USC), Corey Shaun (UCLA) and Roy Cootes (Pepperdine).

Michael Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at mtrostel@usga.org.

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