It was another glorious summer day in northern New Jersey on Tuesday. The sun was out, the temperatures barely crept into the 80s without humidity and there was a gentle breeze – a perfect time to enjoy the outdoors.
Unless, of course, you were one of the competitors trying to unlock the mystery of the two stroke-play venues for the 122nd U.S. Amateur Championship. For the second day in a row, The Ridgewood Country Club and co-host Arcola Country Club presented a daunting challenge to the world’s best amateurs.
With a setup evocative of a U.S. Open – 5-inch rough coupled with firm and fast greens rolling as fast as 13 feet on the Stimpmeter – just making par was a challenge. The venues played to stroke averages well over par: 76.8 at par-71, 7,403-yard Ridgewood and 75.2 at par-70, 7,251-yard Arcola.
That explains why only eight players finished under par for 36 holes. Half of those earned co-medalist honors at 3-under-par 138: Michael Thorbjornsen, of Wellesley, Mass.; fellow 2022 U.S. Open qualifier Fred Biondi, of Brazil; Luke Gutschewski, of Elkhorn, Neb., the son of PGA Tour veteran and two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner Scott Gutschewski; and Hugo Townsend, of Sweden.
The four co-medalists marks the highest total in U.S. Amateur history.
Thorbjornsen, a rising junior at Stanford University who won the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in nearby Springfield, was in position for solo medalist honors until he stumbled with a double-bogey 6 on his final hole at Arcola to post an even-par 70. Townsend, an Ole Miss grad transfer from Boise State, fired a 67 at Arcola, while Biondi, a rising senior at the University of Florida, carded a second consecutive 69, this time at Ridgewood. Gutschewski, a rising sophomore at Iowa State, posted an even-par 70 at Arcola.
They were one stroke ahead of 2022 NCAA individual champion and Vanderbilt rising sophomore Gordon Sargent, of Birmingham, Ala., who shot the only bogey-free round of the championship, a 65 at Arcola, the lowest score of the week by two strokes.
The good news for the players? Everyone who advanced to match play – the cut came at 5-over 146 with a 15-for-11 playoff set for Wednesday morning to determine the final spots – starts from scratch in the Round of 64. Stroke-play scores are forgotten and it’s now head-to-head competition over the next five days to see whose name will be engraved on the Havemeyer Trophy.
Thorbjornsen battled with his driver the entire round and despite making four birdies, including three straight from No. 8, against two birdies over his first 17 holes, it caught up with him on the 452-yard closing hole.
“It doesn't really matter,” said Thorbjornsen about being a co-medalist versus solo medalist. “Kind of just more disappointed in myself for just doubling the last hole, whether it's for nothing or to win the U.S. Amateur. I just don't like playing bad golf.”
Gutschewski, one of six first-round co-leaders, also made a push for solo medalist when he reached 5 under overall after a deuce on the 238-yard second hole, his 11th of the day. Bogeys on 4 and 9 pushed him back to even par for the day.
“It feels good,” said Gutschewski, who failed to qualify for match play in last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur. “Obviously you can't win if you don't make match play, right? It's just another step along the way.”
Biondi, who started on No. 9 at Ridgewood, kickstarted his round with three consecutive birdies from No. 13, including a 25-footer on the par-3 15th. He added another birdie at the par-5 fifth before suffering his second bogey of the round on the 471-yard eighth, statistically the second-hardest hole during stroke play.
Carrying his own bag, Townsend, the son of past Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup and Ryder Cup competitor Peter Townsend, used an eagle on the par-5 ninth at Arcola to post a 3-under 67, the lowest round of the week at the venue. He made a 30-foot putt and quickly followed with a birdie on No. 10 and played his final eight holes in 1 over.
“I was just happy to be out early,” said Townsend, who was born in the Republic of Ireland but resides in Sweden. “I played [Ridgewood in the] afternoon yesterday, and the greens were getting baked, the wind was picking up. I mean, the courses are tough, the rough is thick. I felt like if I could keep some balls in the fairway this morning, I could take advantage of the first 12 holes with a little softer greens, and maybe a little more true roll to the ball.”
The playoff for the last 11 match-play spots begins Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. EDT, starting on Hole 15 at Ridgewood and continuing through No. 18, if necessary. Hole 18 will continue to be played until the spots are filled. The first Round-of-64 match is scheduled for 9 a.m. Peacock and Golf Channel will have live coverage beginning at 3 p.m. EDT. Spectators can attend and daily tickets are available by clicking here.
“Oh, man, it's awesome. I'd be kicking myself if I didn't make that putt [on No. 9 at Arcola] and we'll obviously see what happens [in the playoff]. But I played really well the last two days. I made a triple yesterday [on No. 17 at Ridgewood] and I made a double today. If I take just a couple strokes off both of those, I'm in clean. It would have been really disappointing given how well I played to not have a chance. It's such an amazing stage, and being so close to home, I hope I can keep moving on.” – Mark Costanza on making a 25-foot birdie on his 36th hole to get into the playoff for the final match-play spots
“I think it’s a testament to just staying disciplined out there and sticking to your game plan and not trying to press… I think about [going low] a little bit, but once I knew I was rolling, just not going into protect mode. I just keep trying to make birdies.” – Gordon Sargent on his bogey-free 65
“I was telling my assistant [coach Dudley Hart], who is on the bag this week, it's like the same course, the only difference is one is called the [U.S.] Open, one is called the Am, and one has 100,000 people watching you. But no, it plays hard. It's fair. The greens are a little softer than the Open, which makes it a little easier. But they can make this course really hard.” – Fred Biondi comparing the conditions at this year’s U.S. Open at The Country Club, where he missed the cut, to Ridgewood
“I wouldn't say I'm the best match-play player. I kind of like playing stroke play, so it just depends. If you play good stroke-play golf in match play, normally it works out. Everyone knows that match play there's a lot of variables, you can play someone who has their day and there's not a lot you can do, or you can play someone who's struggling a lot and you don't really need to do that good yourself.” – Hugo Townsend on match play
“Kind of just going to forget about this last hole here, sort out my driver tomorrow morning or whenever I'm teeing off, maybe hit the gym or something, because it's unacceptable the way I'm hitting my driver right now, especially at Ridgewood.” – Michael Thorbjornsen on his mindset for match play
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.