Ding Gives China First U.S. Junior Amateur Champion
For the first time in its history, the U.S. Junior Amateur Trophy is headed to the People’s Republic of China. Wenyi Ding, 17, who built an 8-up lead with eight holes to play, held on to defeat Caleb Surratt, 18, of Indian Trail, N.C., 3 and 2, on Saturday in the 36-hole final of the 74th edition of this USGA championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Ding becomes the third player – and first male – from mainland China to win a USGA title. He joins Alice (Fumie) Jo and Lei Ye, who captured the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior, respectively. Ding also becomes the fifth international champion of the U.S. Junior, joining three players from the Republic of Korea (Terry Noe, Sihwan Kim and Andy Bo Hyeon Shim) and Min Woo Lee, of Australia. Three years ago, Bo Jin of China lost in the title match to Preston Summerhays.
Ding’s name also will be etched on a trophy that includes a list of legendary U.S. Junior Amateur champions, U.S. Open champions Johnny Miller, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, and 2022 Masters champion and current world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler among them.
When the match concluded, tears of joy flowed as Ding enjoyed a poignant moment with his caddie, Wil Lozano, and his father, Feng.
Ding’s victory earns him an exemption into the 2023 U.S. Open at The Los Angeles (Calif.) Country Club, provided he remains an amateur.
The two finalists came into the championship match as the highest ranked players in the 264-player field. When the World Amateur Golf Ranking® was updated on Wednesday, Surratt (No. 19), an incoming University of Tennessee freshman, was one spot ahead of Ding (No. 20), who is planning to attend Arizona State University in 2023.
Surratt arrived at Bandon Dunes as one of the hottest amateurs – let alone juniors – in the country. He had finished no worse than ninth in his last nine competitions, which included victories in the prestigious Junior Invitational at Sage Valley and Terra Cotta Invitational. He also tied for second in last week’s Pacific Coast Amateur in Portland, Ore., and was leading the points list of the Elite Amateur Series, a group of seven competitions that concludes with next week’s Western Amateur at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, Ill.
Ding had not played a lot of golf in the United States before this year, but he did claim three consecutive Chinese Amateur Opens (2019-2021), and tied for third in the 2021 Volvo China Open, a professional event on the PGA Tour China. In his two events in the States this summer, he finished 21st in the Southern Amateur in St. Simons Island, Ga., and missed the match-play cut in the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, events where Surratt finished fourth and T-9 (lost in Round of 16), respectively.
“I'd say his consistency and his distance control were impeccable,” Lozano said of Ding, who he met just last Saturday. “Anybody that comes out here to the Dunes, they're going to be tested, they're going to be challenged, but he was up for the challenge. Anytime we got into a messy situation, a tough situation, he was able to match it with a good shot.”
Overcast skies and light winds greeted the players when they teed off early Saturday morning on the Bandon Dunes course. Conditions remained relatively calm the rest of the day with patches of sunshine and fog.
Going into Saturday’s final, Surratt had not trailed at any point in match play, a string of 74 consecutive holes, but after 10 holes of the morning round, that streak was snapped. Ding, who shot the equivalent of 12 under par over the 34 holes (with match-play concessions), never relinquished the advantage.
But the match turned into a nail-biter on the back nine in the afternoon round when Surratt – who was 8 down with 8 holes to play – won five consecutive holes.
“I felt like I tapped into my good golf,” said Surratt. “I felt like I was on the breach of playing it all day, and the putts just never fell, and the shots just never ended up where I needed them to end up. The last eight holes it just kind of clicked. It felt no different than the other holes that we played today, to be honest. It just worked out better.”
Ding’s short birdie putt on the par-4 28th gave him the 8-up cushion, but a poor drive and subsequent unplayable lie on the par-4 29th hole led to his first bogey of the match. Surratt kept things going with three consecutive birdies to trim his deficit to 4 down. On the 148-yard, par-3 30th he made a 12-foot putt and then he two-putted from 15 feet on the 564-yard, par-5 31st hole.
Then on the par-4 32nd hole, Surratt nearly holed out his approach for a 2. His birdie conceded, Ding had a chance to still tie the hole and clinch the match, only to lip out his 6-footer for birdie.
Ding missed the green on the 200-yard, par-3 33rd hole and when his next two chips failed to stay on the putting surface, he conceded Surratt’s birdie and his lead was suddenly down to 3.
“My caddie told me, just calm down,” said Ding. “You have the advantage. He is nervous and he's more nervous than you, so you're going to win.”
Surratt and Ding both missed the green left with their tee shots on the 361-yard 34th hole. Playing first, Ding pitched his ball to 8 feet, while Surratt took several minutes surveying his pitch. But he pulled it left, 25 feet from the flagstick and his subsequent birdie putt just drifted right of the hole. Ding then calmly lagged his birdie attempt to a foot and the championship was over.
Ding took a 3-up lead into the lunch break, shooting a 66 to Surratt’s 70, with the usual match-play concessions. The two combined for 13 birdies.
“When you're in the finals you know you've got someone equally up to the task as you. I knew it was going to be tough. It felt a little too good to be true going through that front nine. But I knew if he won one hole or even tied one hole [over the last eight holes], we would come out on top. He started feeling a little bit of the pressure, and he'd been telling me for a couple of days that he was tired, he was exhausted. This course takes a toll on everybody who plays it, not to mention what the wind does. I'm just proud of how he persevered.” – Wil Lozano, the Bandon Dunes caddie who carried for champion Wenyi Ding
“I'm so humbled to have been a part of the experience, and I was happy to help someone do something that they wanted to do and help someone live their dreams. As a caddie, that's all I can hope for, to be a part of something great and hope they have a good time while they're out there and help them do it.” – Lozano
“He played some really perfect golf to be honest. He hit every shot where he needed to for 25 holes. It was just hard to beat. I felt like I was 7- or 8-under on the day for 34 holes and just didn't come close. If you would have told me this morning if I'd be 8-under and lose, I wouldn't really believe it. But that just happens. It's match play, and he's a great player.” – Caleb Surratt on Wenyi Ding
“I'm learning that my game can travel. I'm just trying to progress every single week, and I feel like I am doing that. I learned lessons that will make me a better player over time.” – Surratt
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.