After two rounds of match play in the 123rd U.S. Amateur Championship, it appeared that the identical-twin Ford brothers were on a collision course to square off in the quarterfinals, with neither David nor Maxwell, 20, of Peachtree Corners, Ga., being extended past the 16th hole in any of their first four matches at historic Cherry Hills Country Club. Hopes of that matchup were dashed in the Round of 16 on Thursday afternoon, with one match ending in dramatic fashion, the other less so.
David, a junior at the University of North Carolina who is No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®), squared off against Ben James, of Milford, Conn., and No. 6 in the WAGR, in a back-and-forth match that featured six lead changes, the final one coming on the 19th hole, when James completed a late rally with a birdie on the 401-yard par 4. James had squared the match with a two-putt par on the daunting 487-yard 18th, as David Ford was unable to get up and down for par after hitting his drive into the rough.
“It was unbelievable; David is an incredible player,” said James, who won the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s top college freshman at the University of Virginia. “We've played a lot growing up, so I know his short game is phenomenal. I knew I’d have to use my weapon, ball-strike it around. I started off hot with the putter, and I knew it was going to be a good day.”
Maxwell Ford, who is No. 53 in the WAGR and the No. 4 seed this week, was eliminated by Parker Bell, 19, of Tallahassee, Fla., 5 and 4. Bell, a sophomore at the University of Florida, reeled off victories in five of seven holes from Nos. 3 through 9 to take command of their match and set up a quarterfinal matchup with James. Maxwell, who played his first two years of college golf at the University of Georgia, will join brother David at the University of North Carolina this fall. David is one of four players who have been announced as members of the USA Team for the Walker Cup Match against Great Britain and Ireland on Sept. 2-3, along with Nick Dunlap, Caleb Surratt and Gordon Sargent.
Dunlap, the No. 9 player in the WAGR who knocked off world No. 1 Sargent in Wednesday’s Round of 64, rolled to two more victories on Thursday to reach the quarterfinal round. Surratt, of Indian Trail, N.C., who is No. 7 in the WAGR and the No. 6 seed here, was ousted by Paul Chang, of the People’s Republic of China, in the Round of 32 on Thursday morning. Chang birdied the difficult 18th to send the match to extra holes, then birdied the 22nd hole to win.
Dunlap, of Huntsville, Ala., a sophomore at the University of Alabama and the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, reached the match-play bracket for the first time in this, his fourth start in the U.S. Amateur. He stacked a 4-and-2 win over No. 9 seed Connor Jones, of Denver, Colo., and a 5-and-3 win over Bowen Mauss, of Draper, Utah, onto his 2-and-1 win over Sargent.
“My caddie and I have a good game plan for this place, and it’s just to bank on my mid-irons and short irons and go from there,” said Dunlap, the No. 41 seed, who won the Northeast Amateur and the North & South Amateur earlier this summer. In the quarterfinals, Dunlap will face Jackson Koivun, 18, of Chapel Hill, N.C., the No. 32 seed and an incoming freshman at Auburn University. Koivun rallied to edge Matthew Sutherland, of Sacramento, Calif., in the Round of 16 by winning the 18th and 19th holes with pars.
Andi Xu, 21, of the People’s Republic of China and a senior at the University of San Diego, earned a pair of 2-up victories to get to the quarterfinals, first over Cole Anderson of Camden, Maine, then over Connor Gaunt, of Cabot, Ark. He will face Neal Shipley, of Pittsburgh, Pa., who began the week by replicating Western Pa. hero Arnold Palmer in driving the first green with a 1960s era driver at the players’ dinner. Shipley, a graduate student at Ohio State, outlasted Calum Scott, of Scotland, in 20 holes on Thursday morning, then earned a 3-and-2 victory over Cooper Jones, of Highland, Utah.
Jose Islas, of Mexico, captured two matches on Thursday to make the quarterfinals, but he will await his opponent, as Paul Chang and John Marshall Butler played to a stunning stalemate over 18 holes. The match, which will resume at 8 a.m. MDT on Friday, featured a 147-yard hole-out by Chang on the 16th hole for eagle and a 1-up lead, an approach to within a foot for birdie by Butler to tie the match on No. 17, and a remarkable par by Butler on No. 18 after he hit his tee shot into the lake bordering the 18th fairway. After taking a drop, Butler hit an iron shot to within 4 feet to save par and match Chang’s conventional two-putt 4.
The quarterfinals are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. MDT on Friday, with the semifinals at noon Saturday and the 36-hole final starting at 7 a.m. Sunday. The quarterfinals time is a change from the original schedule due to expected weather on Friday afternoon.
The Round of 16 included an impressive three players from Auburn University: 21-year-old seniors John Marshall Butler, of Louisville, Ky.; Carson Bacha, of York, Pa.; and incoming freshman Jackson Koivun, 18, of Chapel Hill, N.C. A fourth Auburn player, Brendan Valdes, 20, a junior from Orlando, Fla., got to the Round of 32, where he lost to Bowen Mauss, 1 up. The most any other school had in the Round of 32 was two players: North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia had two apiece, although one of those who hails from Virginia just was elevated from the club golf team to the regular squad. (Paul Chang).
Three players with Colorado ties advanced to match play, and Connor Jones, 22, of Denver, a graduate student at Colorado State, was the lone one to win in the Round of 64. Jones was eliminated in the Round of 32 Thursday morning by Nick Dunlap, 4 and 2. Colin Prater, 28, a high school teacher from Colorado Springs, and Dylan McDermott, 20, a junior at the University of Colorado who hails from Granite Bay, Calif., both lost in the Round of 64.
Players who advance to the quarterfinals are exempt into the 2024 U.S. Amateur at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. The eight quarterfinalists are also exempt into final qualifying for the 2024 U.S. Open.
Bryson DeChambeau, the 2015 U.S. Amateur champion and 2020 U.S. Open champion, was on hand to watch the Round of 16, and he also took on the Arnold Palmer challenge. Palmer famously drove the green on the par-4 first hole at Cherry Hills on the way to victory in the 1960 U.S. Open, and DeChambeau hit a ball with a persimmon-headed wood to the edge of the putting surface.
“Kind of a range of emotions right now. Matthew [Sutherland] was a really good competitor this afternoon. I felt like I didn't really have the momentum all of the back nine until 18. He hit a really good shot in there, I kind of got lucky it bounced over and I was able to make par and take it to extra holes. It’s been a wild ride, and hopefully I can continue it tomorrow.” – Jackson Koivun, who rallied to win holes 18 and 19 in his Round-of-16 win
“Getting to the U.S. Amateur is so difficult. Competitive golf in itself can be so difficult and has its up and downs. I just try and enjoy it as much as possible, just kind of soaking it all in and having a fun time.” – Neal Shipley, on his relaxed attitude as he moves into the quarterfinal round
“I definitely agree, and to keep the momentum going, we’re going to have to condition tonight and get some work in on that part of the game so we’re ready for tomorrow morning.” – Shipley, reacting to Dan Hicks’ comment on the Wednesday NBC broadcast that Shipley sported the best hair in the field
“There’s a certain expectation, from you and everybody else around you, to perform and play well. There’s a little bit of pressure. But for me, the pressure comes from within, and nobody can give me more pressure than myself.” – Sampson Zheng, No. 3 seed and co-medalist, asked about a medalist not winning this championship since Ryan Moore in 2004
“A few bad breaks here and there, but match play could be anyone’s game. The 63rd seed won the last time it was here, so that just tells you, if it’s your day, it’s your day.” – Sampson Zheng
“I’ve already missed the first week of school, so that’s not ideal, but I think it was worth it. I think one of my friends might tackle me the day I get back because he was like, oh, my gosh, you beat Gordon Sargent and all of them in stroke play. It’s going to be fun.” – Blades Brown, 16, who was the youngest co-medalist in U.S. Amateur history and reached the Round of 32
“I did not think I would get this far, because there are so many good players in this field. There is just so much that could happen on this course with the rough and all the difficulties that are presented. I should have probably had more confidence, but I'm glad I got this far.” – Andi Xu, No. 252 in the WAGR, on his run to the quarterfinals
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.