The words “I just want to make it through to match play” – or some slight variation – have been spoken countless times since the U.S. Amateur Championship initiated its current format that includes stroke-play qualifying in 1979.
The 312-player field has now been whittled down to 64 players who will begin match play at 10 a.m. on Wednesday on Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2. Now the real fun begins. Six rounds of match play – totaling seven rounds – over the next five days will determine the 119th champion.
What do Cole Hammer, Daniel Hillier, Hayden Wood, Alex Smalley, Brett Coletta, Lee McCoy, Taylor Moore, Neil Raymond, Brady Watt, Bobby Wyatt, Gregor Main and Jeff Wilson all have in common? They are the U.S. Amateur medalists and co-medalists in this decade.
Of that dozen, none lifted the Havemeyer Trophy at week’s end. Hammer (2018) and Watt (2013) advanced the farthest in the bracket before losing in the semifinals. Eight players lost in the first two rounds. Not since Ryan Moore in 2004 has a player been the medalist and champion in the same week. Also, only Hammer (2018 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball) and Wilson (2018 U.S. Senior Amateur) have gone on to win a USGA title.
Match play can be a fickle format. A match can sometimes turn on the most innocuous of circumstances, such as a striped drive to the middle of a fairway that comes to rest in a divot or a well-struck putt that lips out. So each win is a cause for celebration.
Some in this week’s field have celebrated a bit more than others. While total match-play wins is not a definitive indicator, it does show that certain players are putting themselves in position for success more often.
Stroke-play medalist Brandon Wu, 22, for example, has five match wins in seven attempts between this year’s NCAA Championship and the Western Amateur. Before earning medalist honors here, though, he had never advanced to match play in this championship. Also, Cooper Dossey, 21, won last month’s North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2, making him a perfect 6-0 in elite amateur match-play events.
Ricky Castillo, the No. 2 seed who was also a co-medalist in the U.S. Junior Amateur in July, has 11 elite amateur match-play wins, including six in the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Amateur. While Brad Dalke, 21, has never won a USGA championship, a few of his 12 elite wins helped the University of Oklahoma win the 2017 NCAA Championship and the USA claim the 2018 Palmer Cup. Dalke also has a runner-up finish in this championship, in 2016.
That Parker and Pierceson Coody would advance to match play after shooting identical 3-over-par 143 is only appropriate. They are 19-year-old twins who are also sophomores on the University of Texas golf team. If the surname sounds familiar, they are the grandsons of 1971 Masters champion Charles Coody.
“This is what we both came here to do,” Parker said after matching his brother’s two-day total with a 72 on Course No. 4 on Tuesday. “There is still a long way to go, but both of us making the cut was the first priority.” They make up the first known set of twins to get to match play in the same U.S. Amateur, although two brothers have reached match play as recently as last year, when Trent and Trevor Phillips of Inman, S.C., both advanced to the Round of 32. In match play of the NCAA team event in May, the Coody brothers went 3-3, with Parker going 2-1 while Pierceson went 1-2, including a loss to Stanford’s Brandon Wu – the medalist here at Pinehurst – in the championship final as the Cardinal prevailed, 3-2.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.