U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
3 Things to Know: U.S. Junior Amateur Stroke Play July 14, 2019 | TOLEDO, Ohio By Ron Driscoll, USGA

U.S. Junior Amateur Home

When the 156 players in the 72nd U.S. Junior Amateur Championship registered at historic Inverness Club, each of them received an inspirational letter signed by eight-time USGA champion Jack Nicklaus. On Sunday, a letter from eight-time major champion Tom Watson was waiting in each of their lockers. On Monday, they will begin their quest to join those legends of the game as a USGA champion.

Here are three things to know for stroke play, which will take place on Monday and Tuesday before the low 64 scorers advance to match play:

Finalists Returning

Defending champion Michael Thorbjornsen and 2018 runner-up Akshay Bhatia are in the field, marking just the second time since 2008 that both finalists from the previous year are competing. In 2017, defending champion Min Woo Lee lost in the first round of match play, while Noah Goodwin “avenged” his runner-up finish from the year before, capturing the championship with a rally from a five-hole deficit to Matthew Wolff in the final match. Bhatia, who at No. 4 is the top player in the field in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), will look to replicate Goodwin’s feat, while Thorbjornsen tries to join Tiger Woods (3) and Jordan Spieth (2) as the only multiple winners in Junior Amateur history.

Buckeye Beginning

Maxwell Moldovan, of Uniontown, Ohio, which is about 150 miles from Inverness, will hit the opening tee shot of the championship on Monday at 6:55 a.m. EDT. The home-state player has one year left at Green High School, and he is planning to attend Ohio State in 2020. Along with the first-ball honor, his name came up when fellow competitors who participated in a panel discussion on Sunday were asked about a player to watch this week. “I would say that Maxwell is the hottest player right now,” said defending champion Thorbjornsen. Moldovan finished second in both the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley and the AJGA Memorial Junior at Ohio State earlier this spring, and he has turned it up a notch recently. Moldovan won the Polo Golf Junior Classic (at match play) on June 28 at Liberty National in New Jersey, and on Friday, he won the Ohio Amateur title at Moraine Country Club in Akron.

Patience Required

The whittling of the field from 156 players to 64 for Wednesday’s first round of match play will no doubt feature some players shooting themselves out of it with a big number on the demanding Inverness layout. Despite its listed 7,339 yards, it is expected to play firm and fast. “There are definitely not a lot of driver holes out here,” said Thorbjornsen. “The fairways are a lot firmer than what we usually play on. I love to pull out driver and just hit it and hope, but I can’t do that this week.” Karl Vilips agreed. “It’s definitely a shotmaker’s course, not a bomber’s course,” said Vilips, who is No. 47 in the WAGR. “It’s long, yes, but the bunkers are perfectly placed in the driving area. You need to stay out of those. Maybe when match play comes around, you can hit some drivers, but players have to understand that par is a really good score.”

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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