122nd U.S. Amateur: 3 Things to Know, Match Play
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From the starting field of 312 players in the 122nd U.S. Amateur Championship, 244 are already headed home, with four additional players joining the exodus Wednesday morning, once the 15-for-11 playoff has concluded and the final spots in the 64-player bracket at The Ridgewood Country Club are decided.
What have we learned so far? Tim Herron, who competed in the 2008 Barclays Championship, a PGA Tour playoff event at Ridgewood, declared that the A.W. Tillinghast layout is “a lot harder” this year than he recalled it playing when Vijay Singh captured the Tour event 14 years ago. The scoring (see below) bears out Herron’s assessment, but those players moving on to match play will hopefully continue to learn the course’s nuances and get more comfortable with the composite of Ridgewood’s three nines when they see it for the third time (counting their practice round).
Here are 3 Things to Know for match play:
No one likes to discuss bad luck, but then again, does anyone really want to be medalist in this championship that has the longest drought of any USGA amateur event for a stroke-play medalist to earn the title? The last time a No. 1 seed or a player who tied for the low 36-hole score – as a record four players did on Tuesday – went on to raise the Havemeyer Trophy was in 2004, which was coincidentally the last time the U.S. Amateur was played in the metropolitan New York area.
Ryan Moore, a three-time USGA champion, took home the title 18 years ago at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Not only has a medalist not reeled off six straight match-play wins since then, the group hasn’t particularly distinguished itself in general. Cole Hammer, who reached the semifinals in 2018 at Pebble Beach Golf Links, is the only one of the seven medalists or co-medalists in the last five years to win more than one match. Two lost in the Round of 64 and the other four all lost in the Round of 32. Brady Watt of Australia, in 2013, is the only other co-medalist in the past decade to get as far as Hammer did.
Is there a good trend for the medalist contingent? In the past 40 years, five medalists have gotten to the final match (most recently Moore in 2004 and before that, Tiger Woods in 1996), and they are a perfect 5-0.
“Going low” was not in the lexicon for the two rounds of stroke play at Ridgewood and stroke-play co-host Arcola Country Club, but particularly at Ridgewood, which is hosting its fifth USGA championship and second U.S. Amateur. The par-71 host club played to a 76.8 scoring average, and only eight players finished under par for 36 holes, which ties the 2019 championship at Pinehurst No. 2 and co-host No. 4 for the fewest in U.S. Am stroke play since 2010, when just six players broke par at Chambers Bay and co-host The Home Course.
In fact, the lowest score in relation to par at Ridgewood either day was 3-under 68, and when wind and dry conditions further toughened Arcola on Monday afternoon, the two courses combined that day to yield no score lower than 3 under. You have to go back to 2009 – a total of 12 years and 24 stroke-play rounds – to find another stroke-play round in the U.S. Amateur where not a single player shot 4 under or better.
Bottom line? Ridgewood is playing extremely tough, and par is likely to win a lot of holes, particularly in the seven-hole stretch from Nos. 4-10, which played as the seven hardest holes in stroke play. The stingiest duo were the eighth (471 yards, 4.62 stroke average) and 10th (475 yards, 4.67 stroke average), both of which logged more bogeys than pars.
It is not unusual anymore to see lots of international flags in the mix at this championship. In fact, when Matt Fitzpatrick won the 2013 U.S. Amateur for the first of his two USGA victories at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., all four semifinalists were from outside the USA, a first in U.S. Amateur history.
These trends can be cyclical, of course. In the past four U.S. Amateurs combined, only three of the 32 total quarterfinalists have been from outside the U.S., and none in the past two years. But one eye-opening stat shows that the rise in international success is likely not going away: from 1920 to 2004, just four of 81 champions were international players (5 percent); since then, eight of 17 champions have been from outside the U.S. (47 percent), most recently Viktor Hovland, of Norway, in 2018 at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Eight of this week’s top 20 stroke-play scorers, including two of the four co-medalists (Fred Biondi, of Brazil, and Hugo Townsend, of Sweden) are from outside the U.S. Of the 68 players in all who remain, 19 hail from 14 foreign countries (three are from Australia, and two each from the People’s Republic of China, England and Sweden). This group is also looking to continue a 2022 USGA trend, in which seven of the nine individual champions so far have come from outside the U.S.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.