Squires Finds Comfort Zone in Match Play August 15, 2019 | PINEHURST, N.C. By Stuart Hall

Squires' victory over medalist Brandon Wu closed a marathon day for the last player to make match play. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Considering this U.S. Amateur Championship will be Austin Squires’ last for the foreseeable future, the 22-year-old is playing with a sense of urgency. And yet he is also adopting a wait-and-see approach.

If the outcomes at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 continue to fall in his favor, then Squires will not mind in the least.

In Wednesday’s Round of 64 match, Squires, the final player to make the match-play field, defeated medalist Brandon Wu, 2 up. The win also closed a nearly 30-hour window in which Squires sat through some fretful delays.

Rewind to Tuesday’s second round of stroke play. Squires teed off on Course No. 2 at 7:56 a.m. After opening with 11 straight pars, he played his final seven holes in 5 over to finish at 5-over 145. As a result, after his round ended at nearly 1:30 p.m., Squires was resigned to watching his name move precariously about the cut line. A weather delay early in the evening pushed the round’s conclusion to Wednesday morning.

So Squires went to bed not knowing if he would survive and advance.

“I thought it was going to be close,” said Squires, who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in May. “I honestly thought there was only going to be one spot [to play for in a playoff]. I didn't think there was going to be three. Thought it was going be like 30 for one and then it was going to be pretty difficult.”

When Squires woke at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, he was tied for 67th. As the final holes of the second round played out, Squires continually refreshed the USGA leader board on his cell phone.

“I got the notification [Tuesday] night that the playoff was going to start at 9:15 no matter what, so I just took it as that's my tee time. I just woke up and got ready for that,” he said. In those closing holes of stroke play, Squires moved to 62nd and became one of 27 players who would play for the final three match-play positions.

In the playoff, Squires made two pars, a birdie and a final par to be the last match-play qualifier. In between each hole he had to wait upwards of 75 minutes while his fellow playoff competitors finished the hole.

Squires took the delays in stride.

“Just kind of sat there with my family,” he said. “Just talked and watched the golf. Tried to stay as loose as possible. Definitely did a lot of stretching. I got pretty tight. I was just trying to stay as loose as possible.”

Loose, but also a bit unnerved.

“I kind of enjoyed watching the golf, too,” he said. “I didn't like it that someone could have made me pack my bags. At the same time, I kind of enjoy spectating sometimes. That was kind of nice.”

After securing his spot against Wu, Squires faced another three-hour wait before the day’s final match began.

“We went back to our condo, got some lunch, showered and came right back,” he said. “Honestly didn't have much time to relax. Just a quick turnaround to get ready for the match.”

He also received a text message from Doug Martin, his former Cincinnati golf coach, who won the 1984 U.S. Junior Amateur.

“Just the same good stuff he always tells me,” Squires said. “‘Way to be tough, the hungry dog gets the bone.’ I just took that mentality to be as tough as possible.”

Versus Wu, Squires never trailed in a match that was all square through the ninth. Squires birdied the 10th and 11th to take a 2-up lead that he never relinquished.

Having reached match play, Squires is now in his element. A year ago at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Squires advanced to the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals to earn an exemption into this year’s field. In 2017, he was a North & South Amateur Championship semifinalist here at Course No. 2.   

“For some reason I thrive in match play,” he said, “the fact that each hole is a new hole. In stroke play it all adds up in the end. In match play I could lose to a guy by 10 or win by 10 and still somehow find myself even with him. It’s easy for me to get into a new mindset on each hole.”

Because of the exemption into this year’s championship, Squires delayed turning pro until after this week.  

“I love amateur golf and wish I could stay an amateur forever, but I want to make a career out of golf, so there’s not a lot of money in amateur golf,” he joked.

Asked whether this could be the week he finally breaks through, Squires was optimistic. “It could be. Throughout the summer it didn’t look like it would be,” he said. “I missed two prior cuts this summer, so I wasn’t coming off of my best performances, but I believe I have found some good momentum.”

Squires can only wait and see.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.    

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