Zheng Leads U.S. Amateur Stroke Play With 6-Under 66

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

| Aug 14, 2023 | Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

Zheng Leads U.S. Amateur Stroke Play With 6-Under 66

What Happened

Sampson Zheng is making a splash in another USGA championship. The rising senior at the University of California-Berkeley, who captured the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title in late May with Cal teammate and fellow senior Aaron Du, opened stroke play of the 123rd U.S. Amateur Championship on Monday with a 6-under-par 66 at Colorado Golf Club, the stroke-play co-host to Cherry Hills Country Club.

Zheng missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Colorado Golf Club (CGC) that would have tied the competitive course record, which is owned by David Frost, who shot 7-under 65 in the third round of the 2010 Senior PGA Championship. Zheng, 22, of the People’s Republic of China, played a bogey-free round with three birdies on each side of the CGC layout, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design in Parker, Colo., about 17 miles away from Cherry Hills. The William Flynn-designed Cherry Hills, in suburban Denver, is hosting its third U.S. Amateur, to go along with three U.S. Opens among 10 USGA championships overall.

“The course has gotten firmer and firmer the past few days,” said Zheng, who is No. 49 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®) and turned heads at the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball by making eight consecutive birdies on his own ball during stroke play. “The fairways are fairly generous, but when you miss them, you have only a couple yards of rough and then fescue. I had a few drivers run through the fairway, but other than that I did pretty well keeping it in play.”

Zheng leads a pair of players at 5-under 67: Ben James, of Milford, Conn., and Ryggs Johnston, of Libby, Mont., both of whom also played at CGC on Monday. Johnston, 23, a fifth-year senior at Arizona State, got to 6 under on his opening nine – the back nine at CGC – then slipped with a trio of bogeys after the turn. He birdied twice more and sealed his 67 with a 12-foot par putt on the 471-yard, par-4 ninth hole.

James, 19, a rising sophomore at the University of Virginia, is No. 6 in the WAGR. The winner of the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s top college freshman, James made his lone bogey on the par-5 16th at CGC, but responded with three consecutive birdies.

“I wasn’t hitting it too well off the start,” said James. “I had my wedge game really dialed in, which is always a big help when you are kind of spraying it.”

Ben James

2023 U.S. Walker Cup hopeful Ben James carded six birdies at Colorado Golf Club on Monday on his way to a 5-under 67. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Colorado native Connor Jones, who had the honor of hitting the first tee shot off No. 1 at CGC on Monday morning, led a trio of players at 4 under. Jones, 21, of Denver, a fifth-year senior at Colorado State in Fort Collins, overcame a double-bogey 5 on the par-3 11th and a bogey on the par-3 17th by making seven birdies. He was joined at 4 under by Ben Lorenz, 21, of Peoria, Ariz., a rising senior at the University of Oklahoma; and Bo Andrews, 33, of Raleigh, N.C., an assistant coach at University of Tennessee; both of whom also played at CGC.

Nick Gabrelcik, 21, of Trinity, Fla., a senior at the University of North Florida, had the day’s best score at Cherry Hills, a 3-under 68, and was joined by a large contingent of players who recorded 3-under 69s at CGC. Gabrelcik was a semifinalist in this championship in 2021 at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, losing to eventual champion James Piot.

A large group of players at 2 under par includes 2022 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matthew McClean, 30, of Northern Ireland; Andrew Paysse, 28, of Temple, Texas, brother-in-law of world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler; and 2022 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Caleb Surratt, 19, of Indian Trail, N.C., a rising sophomore at the University of Tennessee. Wenyi Ding, 18, of the People’s Republic of China, who defeated Surratt in the Junior Am final, bogeyed his last hole, No. 18 at Cherry Hills, to shoot 1-under 70.

Nick Gabrelcik

Nick Gabrelcik (-3, 68) had the lowest score at Cherry Hills during Round 1. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

World No. 1 Gordon Sargent capped an uneven day in spectacular fashion, holing out a 9-iron from 175 yards on the demanding, uphill 18th hole at Cherry Hills for an eagle 2. That gave Sargent, who stood at 2 over after a double bogey on the 241-yard par-3 15th, an improbable 1-under 70.

What’s Next

The 312 players will switch courses on Tuesday as the field is narrowed to 64 players for match play. If a playoff is required to complete the bracket, it will be contested on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. Six rounds of match play begin on Wednesday and continue through the 36-hole final on Sunday, all at Cherry Hills.


Identical twins Maxwell and David Ford, 20, of Peachtree Corners, Ga., are competing in the U.S. Amateur together for the second time, after also doing so in 2020. Maxwell, who is No. 53 in the WAGR and will join his brother at the University of North Carolina this fall after two years at the University of Georgia, opened with a round of even-par 71 at Cherry Hills. David, who is No. 4 in the WAGR and was named to the 2023 USA Walker Cup Team in June, opened with an up-and-down round of 2-over 73 that included seven bogeys and five birdies. The brothers have a triplet sister, Abigail.

Nick Dunlap, the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, had a roller-coaster day at CGC. The Huntsville, Ala., native, who is heading into his sophomore year at the University of Alabama, had an early triple bogey and a double bogey and stood 5 over through seven holes. Dunlap, who won the Northeast Amateur and the North & South Amateur this summer, rallied with six birdies against a lone bogey in his last 11 holes of the day to finish at even-par 72.

Through the end of Round 1, par-71 Cherry Hills was playing more than 4½ strokes over par on average (75.55), while par-72 Colorado Golf Club was playing 3¼ strokes over par (75.26). Cherry Hills yielded 13 under-par scores on Monday to 31 for CGC.

Among the players at even par are 2023 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Bryan Kim of Brookville, Md., and Jackson Van Paris of Pinehurst, N.C. Van Paris, who at age 16 in 2018 became the youngest player since Bob Jones in 1916 to win a match in the U.S. Amateur, ended his day with double-bogey 6 on No. 18.

Walker Isley, of Oak Island, N.C., is competing in the U.S. Amateur for the second straight year, having reached the Round of 32 last year at The Ridgewood Country Club. Although he struggled to a 7-over 78 on Monday at Cherry Hills, he is following in the footsteps of his father, Steve, who competed in the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills, which was won by Phil Mickelson. Steve Isley also competed in the 2021 U.S. Senior Open at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club.

Kazuma Kobori, 21, of New Zealand, who won the Western Amateur a week ago to clinch the top spot in the summer-long Elite Amateur Series, shot 1-over 73 at CGC on Monday.


“Technology and TrackMan definitely help, and just keeping notes of my yardages throughout the practice rounds, keeping notes of how much it is carrying and how much it is rolling out and where to be and not to be. I tried to give myself uphill putts where I could be aggressive at them.” – Sampson Zheng, on adjusting to playing at the mile-high altitude in Colorado

“If you play this course right, you can use the slopes to get it close. I feel like I have a better idea than some of the other guys of where to hit it, and I was able to actually hit it there today.” – Denver native Connor Jones, on his local knowledge at Colorado Golf Club, where he has played an estimated 20 times, after a 4-under 68

“I had a 7 a.m. practice round here and I was the first one on the range and then I hit the first shot. I was thinking, ‘That was the first shot of the U.S. Am and then the first tee shot.’ It was cool.” – Jones, on hitting the first shot off No. 1 at CGC on Monday

“Obviously it would be a great honor. I have had a lot of conversations with [USA Team captain Mike] McCoy and I was invited to the practice squad in Florida. To make the Walker Cup would be unbelievable. But no, it’s not really on my mind. I just want to go out and play good golf, that’s all I want to do.” – Ben James, on the possibility of making the USA Team in next month’s Walker Cup Match at St. Andrews

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