Bling Taking it Deep in Initial Amateur Bid August 16, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif. By Dave Shedloski

Devon Bling has already exceeded his expectations at Pebble Beach. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Like a couple of other famous California golfers, Devon Bling started to play golf not long after he learned to walk, influenced by watching his father Nick hit balls into a net in the garage.

You might have heard of the prodigies; Tiger Woods and Johnny Miller both went on to win multiple USGA titles. Bling took one step closer to joining them after winning two matches Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the 118th U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

A rising sophomore at UCLA, Bling defeated 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur winner Noah Goodwin of Corinth, Texas, in 20 holes, after staking a 9-iron from 164 yards to within a foot of the cup on the par-4 second hole for a conceded birdie. Earlier in the day, the Ridgecrest, Calif., native eliminated Shintaro Ban of San Jose, Calif., 2 up with another walk-off birdie.

Nice work for a guy who had never played Pebble Beach before this week – except on Tiger Woods PGA Tour on his PlayStation. “I played Pebble a couple times [on the video game] just to see how the course was. Looks a little different in person, but just to see the layout,” Bling, 18, said sheepishly. “But, yeah, this is amazing, knowing that it’s a U.S. Open venue, and I couldn’t be happier to be here, and I was enjoying every moment of it.”

Arriving on the Monterey Peninsula admittedly not expecting to even make it to match play, Bling meets Davis Riley of Hattiesburg, Miss., a two-time runner-up in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, at 2:30 p.m. PDT Friday in the first of the four quarterfinal battles.

A former honorable mention Rolex AJGA All-American with an impressive high school resume, Bling hadn’t played particularly well leading into the U.S. Amateur and he didn’t advance far in either of his U.S. Junior Amateur appearances, although he did make match play in both. But the last few weeks he has shored up some weaknesses, namely his short game and grooving a swing that would enable him to work the ball both ways and find more fairways off the tee.

He can’t complain with the results so far.

And he got a break against Goodwin on the home hole after leading 3 up early. Goodwin’s three-putt bogey at the par-5 18th gave Bling new life, and after they halved the 19th hole with pars, Bling ended things with a dagger. Goodwin pulled his second shot out of bounds attempting a hero shot out of a right fairway bunker. He conceded the match when he saw Bling’s approach nestled close to the hole.

Admittedly, Bling has ventured into uncharted territory.

“It is definitely very big. It's probably the biggest thing I've accomplished,” said Bling, who had one victory as a member of the Bruins golf team last year. “The job is not done yet, but I'm going to enjoy this moment right here getting to the quarterfinals and wake up tomorrow and be ready to go. But yeah, it's definitely one of the biggest accomplishments I've had.”

Bling, it should be noted, is one of those rare multi-talented individuals. He can play the piano by ear and also is proficient on a guitar. He paints and draws. Still, golf is his first passion, ever since his dad put plastic clubs in his hands at 18 months old and let him whack wiffle balls throughout the house.

“I really love the game. I can’t get enough of it,” said the soft-spoken teen, who lists Tiger Woods, not surprisingly, as his favorite golfer. “My goal is to simply see how good I can get.”

He’s already crossed one of golf’s most hallowed barriers. Two years ago, Bling fired a 13-under 59 at his home course, China Lake Golf Course in Ridgecrest. The round featured one bogey, 10 birdies and two eagles. In golf, this is called going deep.

What a coincidence. Bling goes by Devon, but his given first name is Devondeep.

And he lived up to that name on his final hole of the day, piping his tee shot at the converted par-5 second hole to the tune of 355 yards, right down the middle. Dad knew what he was doing by giving this kid a golf club so early.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.

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