3 Things to Know: Match Play, 123rd U.S. Amateur

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

| Aug 16, 2023 | Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

3 Things to Know: Match Play, 123rd U.S. Amateur

Two whirlwind days of stroke play at Cherry Hills Country Club and co-host Colorado Golf Club left exactly 64 players to battle it out for the Havemeyer Trophy. It’s the first time in 23 years – since the 2000 U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club – that a playoff was not needed to complete the championship match-play bracket.

What have we learned so far and what lessons are players taking into the matches? Some of them share their mindset as they move on to the Round of 64, while Cherry Hills is garnering plenty of respect for what will surely be a demanding stretch of closing holes. Also, we know that where a player is seeded doesn’t amount to much once the matches begin, but one player with a decorated caddie has gotten very little attention on his way to earning the No. 10 seed.

Here are 3 Things to Know for match play in the 123rd U.S. Amateur:

Match-Play Mantra

Although some of the remaining competitors have little experience with match play, several are on the same page on how to tackle it. That common theme: play the course, not your foe.

As co-medalist and No. 3 seed Sampson Zheng, who won the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title in May with University of California teammate Aaron Du, put it, “I think the most important thing is to play your game. I think ultimately the opponent is going to be the golf course. What the other person does will have an effect, but fairways are really important out here, and keeping it on the green, and having as many uphill putts as possible.”

Luke Potter, who is competing in his fourth U.S. Amateur and reached the Round of 16 in 2022 (as well as the semifinals of the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur), has a similar mindset, with the inference that forging an early lead is critical: “The course is very penal. It’s a great U.S. Amateur course. You win matches by putting the ball in the fairway and not making mistakes. If you give any hope to your competitor, it will open the door and let them get back in the match. There’s a lot of momentum involved.”

Potter, the No. 14 seed, finds a parallel in another sport: “It reminds me of the NCAA Tournament in basketball where it is a survive-and-advance mentality. You have to play mind games with yourself to keep yourself motivated, even when you are up, because one loss of hole or one bad shot can completely change the match.”

It will be interesting to see how No. 2 seed Jackson Buchanan, who is competing in his first USGA championship, fares with his more aggressive game plan: “Personally, I think it’s a different game. You are playing one guy and you can rip driver everywhere. But I am still learning how to play it.”

Buchanan, a junior at the University of Illinois, last competed in match play at the NCAA Championships in May, losing to Florida State’s Luke Clanton, 1 up, in the team quarterfinals. Clanton earned the No. 17 seed this week.

Finishing Clout

Cherry Hills is a classic William Flynn design that turned 100 this year and has benefited from a multi-year restoration effort by Tom Doak’s firm, Renaissance Golf, led by Doak associate Eric Iverson and completed in 2022. Iverson expects the stern finishing stretch of holes to take a toll in matches.

“Starting with No. 12, a tough par 3 over water, the home stretch can be very difficult,” said Iverson. “The front nine is shorter and has fewer of the difficult holes, while on the back, it can be tough to ‘keep it on the rails,’ if you will. Someone could be 2 or 3 down at the turn, but they are not out of the match. There’s still a lot of golf to be played, and a lot of things can happen in that final stretch.”

Among the closing challenges are three consecutive holes that feature Little Dry Creek, beginning with No. 14, which at 522 yards is the longest par 4 at Cherry Hills. The restoration work included bringing the creek more into play on the approach shot. Also, the uphill, 487-yard 18th is one of the great finishing holes in the game. In stroke play, the 14th, 15th and 18th holes played as the three toughest at Cherry Hills. In fact, the uphill, 487-yard 18th hole yielded only 11 birdies and 159 scores of bogey or higher, with a 4.68 stroke average.

“It is just brutally hard: the green is perched up, there’s thick rough on the right and water on the left off the tee,” said No. 5 seed Piercen Hunt, of Canada. “The green’s nothing easy to putt on, either. It’s got a ton of slope. It’s a great finishing hole. I’m sure that any match that gets to that hole is going to be pretty exciting.”

It doesn’t get much more exciting than the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open, when Birdie Kim holed out from a greenside bunker to defeat amateurs Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang.

Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton (left) has twice caddied for Cowboys who have won the U.S. Amateur, including Viktor Hovland in 2018. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Oklahoma State coach Alan Bratton (left) has twice caddied for Cowboys who have won the U.S. Amateur, including Viktor Hovland in 2018. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Cowboy Up?

Alan Bratton, the coach of Oklahoma State’s vaunted program, took over as head coach of the men’s program in 2013-14, after several years as the Cowboys’ associate head coach. In that time, the 1995 USA Walker Cup competitor has caddied for two U.S. Amateur champions from his program: Peter Uihlein in 2010 at Chambers Bay, and Viktor Hovland in 2018 at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Bratton, who was a four-time All-America player for the Cowboys and guided them to the 2018 NCAA title, is on the bag again this week. He is looping for Jonas Baumgartner of Germany, a rising senior at Oklahoma State who is currently No. 31 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®. Baumgartner, 21, followed up an even-par round of 72 at Colorado Golf Club on Monday with an impressive, bogey-free 67 at Cherry Hills on Tuesday to earn the No. 10 seed in match play.

Baumgartner’s first task will be the No. 55 seed, Austin Greaser, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina who is a three-time All-American and the runner-up in this championship in 2021. They will start at 12:40 p.m. MDT on Wednesday. Among some other matches to watch in the Round of 64 are world No. 1 Gordon Sargent vs. 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Nick Dunlap at 10:10 a.m., Sampson Zheng vs. 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Preston Summerhays at 1 p.m., and 2022 U.S. Junior Am runner-up Caleb Surratt vs. Dylan Menante, a semifinalist a year ago in this championship, at 1:40 p.m.

NBCUniversal will have coverage of all five days of match play, starting on Wednesday at 5 p.m. EDT on Peacock and 6-8 p.m. EDT on Golf Channel.

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