The U.S. Amateur Championship serves as a litmus test for the game’s best amateurs, a chance to challenge themselves on layouts strong enough to host major championships. On Day 1, The Ridgewood Country Club and stroke-play co-host Arcola Country Club more than held their own against these elite players in the 122nd edition of America’s oldest championship.
With a premium on driving accuracy – the rough was as high as 5 inches at Ridgewood – and greens rolling about 13 feet on the Stimpmeter, the field faced a pair of U.S. Open-like setups, and the scores were reflective of that philosophy. Add some sunshine and wind to firm up the conditions and there’s a reason why only 18 of the 312 players broke par on either venue: 7,403-yard, par-71 Ridgewood, an A.W. Tillinghast design that hosted the U.S. Amateur in 1974, and 7,251-yard, par-70 Arcola.
Five of the day’s six best scores came at Ridgewood, where 3-under 68s were posted by a group led by 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen, of Wellesley, Mass. Fellow Bay Stater Chris Francoeur, of Amesbury, a 2022 University of Louisville graduate headed to Korn Ferry Tour Q-School later this month, matched that score.
Also shooting 68 at Ridgewood were two members of the USGA’s “Seinfeld” pairing, Hazen Newman, of Las Vegas, Nev., and Campbell Kremer, of Louisville, Ky.; and Luke Gutschewski, of Elkhorn, Neb., the son of two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner and PGA Tour veteran Scott Gutschewski.
Georgia Tech rising junior Christo Lamprecht, of South Africa, had the low round at Arcola, a 2-under 68.
Thorbjornsen, a rising junior at Stanford who qualified for this year’s U.S. Open at The Country Club not far from his hometown, used his experience in major events to his advantage on the difficult layout. Playing in his fifth U.S. Amateur, Thorbjornsen registered four birdies against one bogey.
“Just not being surprised by anything, like how long the rough is, how fast the greens are, stuff like that,” said Thorbjornsen, the 2021 Western Amateur champion who finished fourth in the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., in June, a week after his second U.S. Open start. “I just feel very comfortable out here.”
Francoeur wasn’t in the field until last week, when his ex-college teammate and close friend Jiri Zuska, of the Czech Republic, became exempt by finishing in the top five of the Elite Amateur Series, a group of seven competitions that lead into the U.S. Amateur. Zuska was the medalist at the Berkshire Hills Country Club qualifier on June 30 in Pittsfield, Mass., with Francoeur earning first-alternate status. When Zuska became fully exempt, Francoeur got his spot.
“He stayed with me for the first two months of the summer, so I guess he owed me one there,” said Francoeur.
On Monday, Francoeur was 5 under through 15 holes, only to suffer bogeys on Nos. 6 and 8 (he started on No. 9). He had a ball bury in the lip of a bunker on the sixth and he missed the fairway on the 471-yard eighth hole of the composite course being used at the 27-hole facility. Holes 1-7 of the East Nine, 2-6 of the Central Nine and 4-9 of the West Nine make up the championship layout at Ridgewood.
Lamprecht is looking to carry on the recent U.S. Amateur success of Georgia Tech golfers that includes Andy Ogletree (2019) and Tyler Strafaci (2020) winning in consecutive years. Tech alums Matt Kuchar (1997) and five-time champion Bob Jones also have hoisted the Havemeyer Trophy.
Lamprecht was 3 under through 16 holes before making his second and final bogey of the day on the 497-yard, par-4 17th.
“I guess the overall expectation of this tournament, it's hard,” said Lamprecht, who will represent his country Aug. 31-Sept 3 in the World Amateur Team Championship in France. “It’s the U.S. Open of amateur golf. There's not a lot of birdies given to you. You've just got to play smart golf and not get carried away.”
Other notables who broke par on Monday were two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and three-time USA Walker Cup competitor Stewart Hagestad (69 at Ridgewood), 2021 U.S. Amateur semifinalist/2022 U.S. Open low amateur Travis Vick and U.S. Open qualifier Fred Biondi (both with 69 at Arcola), and 2021 USA Walker Cup competitor Ricky Castillo, 2022 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Wenyi Ding and 2022 U.S. Open qualifier Adrien Dumont de Chassart, all of whom shot 70 at Ridgewood.
Each of the 312 competitors will switch courses for Tuesday’s second round of stroke play, after which the low 64 scorers advance to match play. Should a playoff be necessary to determine the final spots in the draw, it will take place on Wednesday morning at Ridgewood. Tickets for match play are available by clicking here. Live coverage on Peacock (free streaming) and Golf Channel begins on Wednesday at 3 p.m. EDT.
“I double-crossed one off the first tee, and then I double-crossed an iron off the second tee, and then I double-crossed a drive off the third tee and it hit a tree and knocked me back inbounds. At that point I didn't really know where the ball was going. If you had told me after the third hole, I would have shot 2 under I would have walked straight in and had cocktails.” – 2-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad on his 69 at Ridgewood that included an eagle 2 on the 452-yard fifth hole with an 8-iron from 163 yards
“He's taught me everything I know about golf for the most part. He's just a good role model more than anything. Just kind of watching him be a professional, I think that's kind of what I wanted to do my whole life and watching him doing it since I was 5 years old has been pretty cool.” – Luke Gutschewski (3-under 68 at Ridgewood) on his father, Scott, a 20-year veteran of the PGA Tour/Korn Ferry Tour
“When I first looked at the pairing, I actually didn't realize it, and then a buddy of mine on the way to the practice round on Sunday, he texted me, ‘Hey, man, you're going viral.’ I said, ‘What?’ It was like a Reddit group or something that had it, saying if I only had a dollar for every time somebody asked me if I was related to George.” – 2021 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Mark Costanza on his “Seinfeld” pairing with collegians Hazen Newman and Campbell Kremer
“My dad is a big Seinfeld guy, so that's about it. I've never sat down and watched a show.” – Campbell Kremer (68 at Ridgewood) on his pairing
“You really can't get any better preparation for that than coming here.” – Chris Francoeur (3-under 68 at Ridgewood) on going to Korn Ferry Q-School next week
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.