Semifinalists Set After 18th-Hole Drama at Cherry Hills

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

| Aug 18, 2023 | Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

Semifinalists Set After 18th-Hole Drama at Cherry Hills

What Happened

The par-4 18th hole at Cherry Hills Country Club has seen its share of heroics and heartaches through 10 USGA championships, and the lore only grew on Friday in the 123rd U.S. Amateur quarterfinals. Two matches came to the 487-yard, uphill 18th and the hole was tied with bogeys (Nick Dunlap and Jackson Koivun) and with double bogeys (Parker Bell and Ben James), setting up further drama on another historic hole here, the par-4 first, where Arnold Palmer triggered his historic comeback in the 1960 U.S. Open by driving the green.

Dunlap, 19, of Huntsville, Ala., the No. 9 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®), rebounded from his three-putt bogey on No. 18 to birdie No. 1 and defeat Koivun, 18, of Chapel Hill, N.C. Dunlap, who won the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur title, was 2 down through seven holes and rallied to take the lead, but twice followed up hole wins with bogeys, on Nos. 14 and 16, to give Koivun hope.

“I know it’s hard to win; it’s hard to win for him, it’s hard to win for me, and just give all you got,” said Dunlap, a sophomore at the University of Alabama, who knocked in a 20-foot putt on the 333-yard first hole, then watched as Koivun, who is No. 73 in the WAGR, missed his tying bid from 12 feet. “That just shows, I was feeling like I was in a bad spot on the last hole, and you never know what can happen. I felt like if I could somehow give myself a putt and make it, you never know what happens. Fortunately it all turned out in my favor.”

Bell, 19, of Tallahassee, Fla., a sophomore at the University of Florida, outlasted a furious rally by James, of Milford, Conn., who is No. 6 in the WAGR and was the winner of the Phil Mickelson Award as the top freshman in the country for the University of Virginia. Just when it appeared that James might complete his rally from 2 down with three to play, he missed a 2½-foot putt for bogey on No. 18 and settled for matching 6s with Bell, who also took three to get down from the side of the steeply pitched green.

Bell, who had watched James birdie No. 16 and eagle No. 17 to tie the match, took full advantage of his opportunity on the 19th hole, making a 5-foot birdie putt after James’ long birdie try slid past. Bell, who was not among Florida’s top players in the 2022-23 season, has found his form at a very fortuitous time. He will square off against Dunlap on Saturday in the semifinals at noon MDT.

“I really thought it was over. He was steady all day putting,” said Bell of James’ three-putt on No. 18. “When he missed it, it felt like new life, and I’m sure he was pretty boggled by that. The momentum kind of swung to my side. I didn’t really want it to go any further. When you get a chance like that to win it, you never know if you’re going to get another opportunity, so you've got to take advantage.”

Parker Bell

Parker Bell never trailed in his match with Ben James, but their showdown went to the 19th hole on Friday. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

The other all-American semifinal will pit John Marshall Butler, 21, of Louisville, Ky., against Neal Shipley, 22, of Pittsburgh, Pa. Butler, 21, a senior at Auburn University, completed his dramatic Round-of-16 victory over Paul Chang early Friday morning with a par on the 19th hole, then led from the first hole in his 3-and-2 quarterfinal victory over Jose Islas, 20, of Mexico, a junior at the University of Oregon.

“I was just really in control of my game mentally and physically,” said Butler of his quarterfinal performance. “Never was rattled. José is a great player. He hit some very high-quality iron shots. But I just stuck to my game plan, played very resiliently. I have all week.”

Shipley prevailed, 2 and 1, in a back-and-forth matchup with Andi Xu, 21, of the People’s Republic of China. After Xu took an early 2-up advantage, Shipley, a graduate student at Ohio State University, won three straight holes. Xu forged a final tie with a birdie on the par-3 12th, but miscues on Nos. 15 and 17 dashed the chances of the University of San Diego senior, the No. 7 seed in the bracket.

“This one is pretty special because I started out kind of slow and had to claw back,” said Shipley, who played at James Madison University before joining the Ohio State program last year. “I got up, and then he got me, and then just kind of won those two near the end. It’s tough. You’ve just got to stay mentally in it the whole time.”

Neal Shipley

Neal Shipley rebounded from an early deficit to top Andi Xu and earn a spot in the semifinals. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

What’s Next

The semifinal matches will start at noon and 12:15 p.m. MDT on Saturday and the 36-hole final will start at 7 a.m. Sunday, with the second 18 of the final beginning at 1 p.m.


This week’s run for Neal Shipley caps a busy, successful summer of golf for the Ohio State graduate student. He was the runner-up in the Sunnehanna Amateur and the Trans-Miss Amateur, the latter in a playoff. He also tied for second at the Dogwood Invitational and tied for third in the Pacific Coast Amateur in late July. All of those results helped him take fourth place in the Elite Amateur Series behind, in order, Kazuma Kobori, of New Zealand, the 2023 Western Amateur champion; Nick Dunlap, who won two events in the series; and Jackson Van Paris, who won the Sunnehanna event. Kobori missed the cut for match play at Cherry Hills by one stroke, while Van Paris lost in the Round of 64.

Nick Dunlap has had ultimate success with the caddie on his bag this week. In 2021, Dunlap captured the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at the Country Club of North Carolina with Jeff Curl, 44, who played professionally on the Korn Ferry Tour for several years and played in the 2000 U.S. Amateur and the 2012 U.S. Open. Curl’s father, Rod, played on the PGA Tour for 20 years and won the 1974 Colonial Invitational.

Of the 16 players to reach the Round of 16 on Thursday, 10 of them got into the field through one of the 93 qualifiers held throughout the U.S., with one each held in Canada and Mexico. The six other players earned their spots in the 312-player field via exemptions for their WAGR position or results in important events.

On hand for the quarterfinal round at Cherry Hills were John Elway, two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Denver Broncos and a longtime team executive, and Judy Bell, a Colorado Spring resident who was the first female president of the USGA in 1996-97 and the recipient of the association’s highest honor, the Bob Jones Award, in 2016. Another former Bronco quarterback, Peyton Manning, is the honorary chairman of the 2023 U.S. Amateur. Elway served in that capacity when the U.S. Amateur was contested at Cherry Hills in 2012.


“I didn’t make much all day, to be honest with you. I’m normally pretty good inside 10 feet, and I missed two coming down the stretch. That’ll shake you up a little bit. [On the last putt] All I could do was hit a good putt. If I hit a good putt and miss and he makes it, I can wrap my head around that. Fortunately, I looked up, and it crested, went right over the spike mark we were looking at.” – Nick Dunlap, on his winning putt after struggling on the greens for much of the day

“I think you can get overwhelmed by the situation quickly if you allow yourself to. You have to stick to your game plan, no matter what that is, whether it’s trying to push it down the fairway with driver, 3-wood or lay back with irons. That’s been my game plan the entire way.” – Dunlap

“Somebody told me yesterday he was the No. 1 junior in the world, and he obviously had to do some pretty impressive things to get there. I hadn’t played with him, but he’s made it to the Elite 8 of the U.S. Am and he’s not even in college yet.” – Dunlap, on his opponent, Jackson Koivun

Just where I was 15 minutes before then, like head in my hands, thinking my tournament is over, to all of a sudden I have a chance to win tomorrow and play in the Masters. Just a huge, huge emotion, and I kind of let it all out with the fist pump. But I had to.” – Parker Bell, on his winning birdie putt

“I guess I just had so much adrenaline going that [my 18th-hole tee shot] went in the water, dropped, got a perfect number with a gap wedge, and just really dialed in on that. Just heard everybody up at the green screaming, and I was like, oh, my gosh, did it go in? Because it was like one of those roars. Then came out this morning and finished it off. But Paul is a great player. We had a fantastic match, probably one of the best matches I’ll have in my life.” – John Marshall Butler, on his Round-of-16 battle with Paul Chang, in which he was able to save par on No. 18 after driving into the lake

“You've got to beat so many good players, and I've had a lot of really tough matches.  Just getting here is fun, but getting to the semifinals is just awesome, and having a chance to win tomorrow for a lot of really good opportunities is great.” – Neal Shipley

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