U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Round of 32: Five Storylines to Watch
July 20, 2017 | Andover, Kan.
By David Shefter, USGA
The 70th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship is beginning to push toward the finish line at Flint Hills National Golf Club. The field, which was trimmed from 156 to 64 on Tuesday, now has only 32 players remaining. By the end of the day on Thursday, only eight will remain. One thing is for sure, a new name will be engraved on the trophy with defending champion Min Woo Lee, of Australia, losing to Noah Norton on Wednesday.
Here are five storylines going into the Round of 32:
Matthew Wolff and Austin Eckroat are getting a little preview of what the next few years will be like at Oklahoma State University this week by rooming together. The two have become friends through golf and will be teammates in the fall. But that kinship might have to take a break for a couple of hours on Friday. Should the two win a pair of matches on Thursday, they would meet in the quarterfinals.
“It would be a good match,” said Wolff, a 3-and-1 winner over Remington Hirano. “I mean, we both want to win, but we’ll see what happens. We’re both playing pretty well right now. It sucks that you have to play your friend, but at the same time, if you want someone to win, you want it to be your friend.”
The two future Cowboys still have plenty of work before that scenario can take place. Wolff, 18, of Agoura Hills, Calif., faces Ryan Gerard in Thursday’s Round of 32, and then would have to collect another victory in the afternoon to reach the final eight. Eckroat, 18, of Edmond, Okla., the medalist and top seed, faces Yuki Moriyama, of Japan, in the Round of 16.
Meanwhile, the two are enjoying their time together this week. Wolff’s parents did not fly out from California, so he’s relying on Eckroat for rides to the course. The two had lunch together after their victories on Wednesday.
This is also the final U.S. Junior Amateur for both players, so a deep run would be special.
“I’d say I want to win a little bit more because this is my last chance,” said Wolff. “But you can’t look at it that way. You’ve got to look at one match at a time, and just play my game, and see if the cards go my way.”
Parker Coody can’t help but notice the green jacket every time he visits the game room in his grandfather’s home. Charles Coody won the 1971 Masters by two strokes over Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller for the last of his three PGA Tour victories (he owns 15 worldwide wins). That passion for the game was first passed on to Parker’s father Kyle and then to Parker and his 17-year-old twin brother Pierceson, who plans to join Parker at the University of Texas in the fall of 2018.
“I’ve seen a lot of pictures [of his Masters win],” said Parker after his 3-and-1 win over Akshay Bhatia on Wednesday. “Obviously, I’ve seen the green jacket a few times.”
Grandpa is keeping a keen eye on Parker from afar this week, viewing the online scoring. When Parker competes in local and regional events in Texas, Charles will come out and watch.
“He’s rooting for me, so it’s nice to know he’s pushing us along and helping to keep the process going,” said Parker, whose twin brother competed in the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2014, but didn’t qualify this year. This is Parker’s second Junior Amateur, but he lost in the Round of 64 two years ago at Colleton River Plantation Club.
Having that previous experience was invaluable this time around for the 17-year-old from Plano, Texas.
“I’ve been trying to work on minimizing the mistakes,” said Coody, who next faces Logan McAllister. “Hit a few more fairways and greens. [Make] a few more putts. And the scores go down pretty quickly. It’s funny how that works.”
Garrick Higgo was an avid rugby player – as well as a golfer – until he suffered an injury that changed his athletic focus.
“In seventh grade, I broke my elbow and had to choose between the two,” said the 18-year-old from South Africa.
That looks to be a good decision. The left-hander collected his first USGA match-play victory on Wednesday, defeating Wil Gibson, 5 and 3, to set up a match against Angelo Giantsopoulos, of Canada.
Last year, Higgo qualified for both the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Amateur, losing in the Round of 64 in the former at The Honors Course and missing the cut by three strokes at Oakland Hills Country Club in the latter.
“Maybe a little longer, just overall [more] consistent,” said Higgo of his year-over-year improvement.
Higgo plans to play collegiately at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He got noticed by UNLV coach Dwaine Knight and assistant Philip Rowe by sending them an email. He looks up to former Rebels Adam Scott, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore, plus he knew the reputation of the program and the quality of courses they use.
Higgo just doesn’t know if he’ll enroll in January or wait until the fall of 2018.
“We’re still talking about that,” he said.
Sounds like Higgo will have another decision to make.
A matchup between Frankie Capan and Cole Hammer seems more like a semifinal or championship final than the Round of 32, but as the draw has it, these two elite juniors – one with a USGA title and the other with a U.S. Open start – will square off on Thursday rather than Saturday.
At least they go off at 7:50 a.m. CDT, before the expected triple-digit temperatures begin to take effect.
“It's going to be a factor,” said Hammer, a Houston native who is used to searing summer heat. “It's so important to drink water. I know people who don't think it's that important and they're struggling by the back nine. That's going to be a big key. It's also harder to focus and concentrate for four hours when we're out there.”
Focus shouldn’t be an issue in this match. Capan, 17, of North Oaks, Minn., is coming off the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title he and partner Shuai Ming (Ben) Wong claimed on May 31 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club. He also won the Toyota Junior Golf Cup in Japan last month. Hammer, 17, became the third-youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Open two years ago at Chambers Bay.
And although they’ve played friendly matches before, this is the first time they’ll square off on a big stage.
Good friends Chris Hatch and Joe Fryer gave Alvin Kwak the nickname “Big Al” three years ago. Perhaps they knew something because the 16-year-old from Mukilteo, Wash., pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Round of 64, eliminating No. 2 seed Brandon Mancheno. Two days earlier, Mancheno carded a course-record 63 in stroke play, but Kwak, a rising junior at Kamiak High, eliminated the Jacksonville, Fla., native, 1 up.
Although Kwak, the No. 63 seed, won the U.S. Kids Teen World title in 2014, this was one of his biggest achievements in golf. If anything, it provides a major confidence boost going into his Round-of-32 encounter against University of Southern California incoming freshman Kaito Onishi, who had the week’s other big achievement when he aced the par-3 10th hole to begin the championship on Monday and holed out for an eagle-2 on No. 15 in the same round.
“I feel like that gave me the confidence that I can go all the way to the end of this tournament,” said Kwak. “I barely made the [match-play] cut, so to be able to feel like this is great.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.