The objective of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship – like all USGA competitions – is to identify the best player. Well, the two best golfers in this week’s field, at least according to the World Amateur Golf Ranking®, are going to battle it out for the title on Saturday at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Caleb Surratt, 18, of Indian Trail, N.C., who is No. 19 in the WAGR, and world No. 20 Wenyi Ding, 17, of the People’s Republic of China, each won a pair of matches on a breezy Friday on the resort’s Bandon Dunes course to advance to the 36-hole final of the 74th U.S. Junior Amateur.
Surratt, an incoming freshman at the University of Tennessee, eliminated defending champion Nicholas Dunlap, 18, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., 4 and 3, in one semifinal match, while Ding, who is planning to attend Arizona State University in 2023, outlasted Eric Lee, 17, of Fullerton, Calif., in 20 holes.
The winner of Saturday’s match not only will join legendary champions Johnny Miller, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and 2022 Masters champion Scottie Scheffler on the trophy, but also will earn an exemption into the 123rd U.S. Open next June at The Los Angeles Country Club.
Ding, the second player from China to advance to the Junior Amateur final (Bo Jin, 2019), is hoping to become the fifth international golfer to win the championship after a trio of players from the Republic of Korea (Terry Noe, Sihwan Kim and Andy Hyeon Bo Shim) and Min Woo Lee, of Australia, whose sister, Minjee, won this year’s U.S. Women’s Open. He also would be the first male player from China to win any USGA title; Fumie (Alice) Jo and current Stanford University standout Lei Ye captured the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior, respectively.
Surratt, meanwhile, has been one of the hottest amateur golfers in the country since the calendar switched to 2022. He has not finished outside the top 10 in his last nine events, including victories at the prestigious Junior Invitational at Sage Valley and Terra Cotta Invitational. He came to Bandon Dunes fresh off a tie for second in last week’s Pacific Coast Amateur in Portland, Ore., and he currently leads the Elite Amateur Series, a group of seven top-flight competitions that concludes with next month’s Western Amateur.
It was another typical summer day at Bandon Dunes once the marine layer was replaced by crystal blue skies. By the end of the morning quarterfinals and start of the afternoon semifinals, the winds were blowing steadily in the mid-teens and gusting to the low 20s with temperatures in the upper 50s.
“I felt like I had control of my ball pretty much all day, and you really have to in this wind,” said Surratt, who has Tennessee men’s golf coach Brennan Webb on the bag. “I was just trying to keep my head down and hit it where I was looking and then let the results add up because I can't control what happens.”
Like he has done in his four previous matches, Surratt jumped on Dunlap early by winning Nos. 2 and 5 to go 2 up at the turn. He won the par-4 11th with a bogey and par-3 12th to take a commanding lead. Dunlap, who was hoping to become the second player in Junior Amateur history to win consecutive titles (Woods achieved it from 1991-93), managed to birdie the par-5 13th to get one hole back, but Surratt won No. 14 with a par and closed out the match on the par-3 15th.
Surratt has yet to trail in a match this week, a stretch of 74 holes, and he’s only been tied for five of them. On Saturday, he’ll look to become the fourth North Carolinian to win the championship, following Larry Beck (1957), John Crooks (1967) and Jason Widener (1988).
Ding also never trailed against Lee, but saw a 2-up advantage evaporate over the final five holes, including a bogey 6 on the closing hole when he had to take a drop for an unplayable lie after a wayward drive. Lee’s run, however, ended with a three-putt from 30 feet on the second playoff hole, the par-4 14th hole, after Ding converted a testy 7-footer for par.
For the first time in U.S. Junior Amateur history, every quarterfinal match went the distance (or beyond), producing plenty of excitement and drama.
Luke Potter, of Encinitas, Calif., an Arizona State incoming freshman who was a semifinalist in 2021, watched a 20-foot birdie putt catch the left edge of the hole on No. 18 that would have forced extra holes against Ding.
Another semifinalist from 2021, Luke Clanton, of Miami Lakes, Fla., took Dunlap to the 19th hole before being eliminated. Neither player held more than a 1-up lead before Dunlap made a 54-foot birdie on the first extra hole.
Two-time Australian Junior champion Jeffrey Guan rallied from 4 down with four to play with birdies on 16 and 17 and a par on 18, only to lose on the 20th hole to a 35-foot birdie by Lee.
Preston Stout, of Dallas, Texas, overcame a 2-down deficit to Surratt, only to see his opponent birdie No. 16 and then hold on for a 1-up win. It was the first time this week Surratt had been taken to the 18th hole.
Saturday’s 36-hole championship match will commence at 7:45 a.m. PDT and is scheduled to resume after the lunch break at 1:15 p.m. Golf Channel has live coverage beginning at 6 p.m. EDT (3 p.m. PT). Admission is free and spectators are encouraged to attend.
“It means a lot. But in a way it's just another day. I'm going to wake up tomorrow and do the same thing I did today. That's how you have to train your mind to be able to compete, especially under high-pressure situations like there will be tomorrow.” – Caleb Surratt on his mindset for the final
“I didn't have my best stuff, obviously, coming into this week. I haven't been playing great. Just kind of found something [this week] and went with it. I had everybody's best shot. I had a lot of matches come down to the end. To make it to the semis, I just wish I would have had my stuff today.” – Nicholas Dunlap on reaching the semis in his title defense
“That's the tough part. You practice your whole life, and just kind of looking at it, I was like, wow, this is going to be sweet. I was preparing my fist pump … I was like, this is going in. Been putting great all week. I hit a good putt; that's all you can do. It took a hard left turn at the end, but that's golf.” – quarterfinalist Luke Potter on his birdie attempt on 18 that would have forced extra holes
I just want to calm down and try to get back my energy. That’s most important, and not think about the championship.” – an exhausted Wenyi Ding on resetting his focus for the 36-hole final
“It’s fun and tiring. It’s a lot of golf. But it is a lot of fun getting to play two college players and beating both of them [en route to the semis]. It’s definitely a confidence booster going into the next few tournaments.” – Eric Lee on his semifinal run in his first USGA start
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.