Co-Medalists Roll Into Final 16 at Breezy Kiawah Island Club
For the 32 sides who survived the stroke-play portion of the 8th U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Kiawah Island Club, the start of the Round of 32 on Monday at breezy Cassique brought about a chance for a reboot. The great scoring from the weekend – which saw several championship scoring records matched – was now in the rearview mirror.
Now it’s all about beating an opponent, not an entire field, and living by the old cliché of survive and advance.
Both medalists from stroke play – University of California-Berkeley teammates Aaron Du and Sampson Zheng and college freshmen Carter Loflin (University of Georgia) and Wells Williams (Vanderbilt University) – easily advanced, as did No. 3-seeded Garrett Rank, of Canada, and Joseph Deraney, of Belden, Miss., on what was the windiest day of the championship.
After two days of calm conditions, players were greeted with gusts into the upper 20s. Du and Zheng both said the course played five to six shots harder than on Sunday when the latter registered 10 overall birdies, including eight in a row, en route to a 61.
The two 21-year-olds from the People’s Republic of China who came to the United States for high school, grinded out a 3-and-2 win over playoff survivors Ryan Eckelkamp and Tony Gumper, who went five holes on Monday morning to garner the final match-play spot.
Zheng rolled in a 10-foot birdie on No. 9 to put the side up 2 holes, and he added a 20-footer on the 14th hole that essentially clinched the match.
“It played really tough,” said Zheng. “The front nine was definitely a grind.”
Loflin, of Duluth, Ga., and Williams, a West Point, Miss., native who captured the prestigious Cabo Intercollegiate earlier this year for the top-rated Commodores, had an even easier time with their first-round opponents, eliminating brothers Matt and Paul Ostby, 6 and 4. The only duo to earn multiple medalist honors in the brief history of the championship is now 4-1 in match play in this event, the only loss coming in a disappointing 7-and-5 semifinal defeat last year at the Country Club of Birmingham.
“It wasn’t playing easy,” said Williams of the same course that the duo shot 62 on Sunday. “Those first six or seven holes are playing straight into the wind. You aren’t playing for pars necessarily, but you’re content with them. When the wind switched a little on [Holes] 8-11, we had shorter clubs and were able to roll in some putts.”
Rank, who refereed 73 regular-season National Hockey League games this season and six more first-round playoff tilts, and Deraney never trailed in posting a 5-and-3 win over Scott Shingler and Justin Young. The two former U.S. Mid-Amateur runners-up – Rank in 2012 and Deraney in 2019 – registered six birdies in shooting 5 under par over 15 holes.
In what arguably was the best match of the day, Indiana high school sophomores Peyton Blackard and Brayden Miller defeated Christopher Newport University teammates Robb Kinder and Alex Price in 20 holes. All tied going to 18, Blackard holed an 8-footer before Kinder, who tied for second individually with Price in the NCAA Division III Championships that ended last Friday, converted his 3-footer to force extra holes. Two holes later, the duo made another birdie to close it out the win over the No. 4 seeds.
Two more rounds of match play will be contested on Tuesday at Cassique, beginning at 7 a.m. with the Round of 16, with the semifinals and 18-hole championship match scheduled for Wednesday.
“The greens are perfect. I’ve hit a number of good shots and given myself looks. With [my partner] Pat [Wilson] making a bunch of pars and birdies, I get freed up to hit some aggressive putts, and the greens are so pure that if you get it online, [the putt is] going in.” – Brad Tilley on making 16 birdies on his own over 33 holes at Cassique
“At some point, it just comes down to a confidence thing. [My partner] Wells [Williams] was swinging very confidently today and so was I. That’s really all you can do in the wind; make an aggressive swing at it. Everyone hits low shots differently – I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to do it but I think we’re both really comfortable with that type of game. If it stays like this, we’ll be ready for it.” – Carter Loflin on playing in windy conditions
“If we just play like today, everything will be fine [tomorrow]. This course is nice for us. Our games are so different, and this course is ying and yang for us.” – Drew Kittleson on how he and partner Drew Stoltz have adapted to Cassique
“Yeah, we were feeling the pressure a little bit [into extra holes]. We were really wanting to get into the Round of 16, being our first time here. I’m just glad we were able to make the putts coming down the stretch.” – Brayden Miller after he and his partner, Peyton Blackard took out the No. 4 seeds in 20 holes
“No, we want more. We want to try and get to Wednesday.” -- Blackard
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jonathan Coe, the USGA’s senior manager, championship communications, contributed.