A closer look: U.S. Junior, semifinals

Will Zalatoris, Curtis Luck, Sam Horsfield and Davis Riley all advanced to Friday afternoon's semifinals at the U.S. Junior Amateur, setting up what should be an exciting pair of matches.

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#NameYearStateRating
1Sam Burns2015LA68.22
2Austin Connelly2015TX68.37
3Jorge Garcia2015FL68.39
4Andy Zhang2016FL68.4
5Davis Riley2015MS68.6

THE WOODLANDS, Texas –– We’re now just three matches away from determining the winner of the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur.

Will Zalatoris, a 17-year-old Wake Forest signee from Plano, Texas, defeated top-seeded Sean Crocker of Zimbabwe, 3 and 2, Friday at The Club at Carlton Woods to move onto the semifinals. He’ll now face Australian Curtis Luck, a 2-up winner over Will Grimmer of Cincinnati, Ohio, at 12:45 p.m. Friday.

In the other semifinal, set to start at 1 p.m., Sam Horsfield of England and Davis Riley of Hattiesburg, Miss., will meet after each recorded victories on the 18th hole in the quarterfinals. Horsfield eliminated Norway’s Andreas Halvorsen, 1 up, while Riley knocked off China’s Andy Zhang, 2 up.

Here’s a closer look at the semifinal matchups (all times local):

• • •

Will Zalatoris (Plano, Texas) vs. Curtis Luck (Australia), 12:45 p.m.

Zalatoris drained a 40-footer for birdie at the par-4 16th hole to seal his victory over Sean Crocker – “I’ve heard 40 feet, 60 feet, I’m sure if you ask next year I’ll say it was 100 feet,” Zalatoris quipped. “It was long.”

Even more crucial, though, was that Zalatoris made just two bogeys while Crocker made six, five of which resulted in a lost hole. Zalatoris also proved lethal with his irons on the back nine. He took his final lead at the 10th hole after sticking his approach to 6 feet.

“Other than that bomb on 16, I don’t think I had a putt of more than 15 feet on the back nine,” Zalatoris said. “I just kept stuffing it over and over.”

He’s talked about patience a lot this week, and he’ll once again need it against Luck, an aggressive Australian who will likely go after a bunch of pins, but at the same time, won’t give away many holes.

Luck, whose driving has been locked in as of late, made four birdies against Will Grimmer and led 5 up through nine holes. Despite making just one bogey on the back, Luck saw his lead cut to just 1 up heading into the par-5 18th as Grimmer made four birdies from Nos. 11-16.

“He was hitting good shots,” Luck said. “Even on 17, he only made a par, but the (tee) shot he hit, that could’ve finished 10 feet (away).”

But Grimmer’s lack of length hurt him at the 18th. He had to lay up while Luck was just off the back of the green in two. After Grimmer missed a birdie putt, Luck was conceded a short birdie.

While Zalatoris ended his match early and will have more rest before his 12:45 p.m. tee time, Luck does have the advantage of seeing the last two hole locations.

“You get to play some shots you normally wouldn’t have,” Luck said. “It’s not just seeing them, it’s actually feeling the shot.”

Although he admitted he would’ve rather closed things out much earlier.

“Definitely,” Luck said. “It takes the pressure off, that’s for sure, and mentally it’s better, too.”

With both players playing well, it’s that mental aspect that could determine who moves on to Saturday’s 36-hole final. Luck is confident he’ll be able to shake off Grimmer’s near-comeback, and will also be calmed by having another top Australian junior, Ryan Ruffels, on his bag – Ruffels lost in the Round of 64. Zalatoris has worked with his caddie, Scott Fawcett, on staying in the moment and staying patient.

“Minimize everything, don’t make it that big of a deal,” Zalatoris said.

But deep down, both players know this next match is a huge deal.

• • •

Sam Horsfield (England) vs. Davis Riley (Hattiesburg, Miss.), 1 p.m.

Riley figured he’d need a birdie at the par-5 18th to halve the hole and secure a 1-up victory over Andy Zhang. After all, Zhang is one of the longest hitters in junior golf and could easily reach the green in two shots.

But Zhang hooked his drive into the trees and then hit his second shot in the water to end his chances at moving on.

“Not the way you want to win, but I’ll take it,” said Riley, last year’s runner-up who has made a point of playing smart this week. Early in his match Friday, Zhang struggled, so Riley played it safe.

“Andy wasn’t playing too well starting out and I was trying to hit fairways and greens, and I was winning some holes with par,” said Riley, who was 3 up after seven holes despite playing them in 1 over.

But on the back, both players started to heat up. They each birdies Nos. 11 and 12. Then Zhang knocked his approach close at the 16th and made birdie to move to just 1 down. At the 17th, Zhang got up-and-down from the bunker to stay alive.

“He hit one of the best up-and-downs I’ve ever seen in my life,” Riley said.

Now, Riley will draw another good friend in Horsfield.

The Davenport, Fla., resident took a 2-up lead on Andreas Halvorsen after the Norwegian three-putted the 15th hole. Horsfield then made a 12-footer for birdie at the 16th to halve the hole.

“That was huge to halve the hole,” Horsfield said.

After dropping the 17th hole, Horsfield got up-and-down for birdie at the 18th, capping it with a 5-foot putt, to advance.

“Made a couple of clutch putts coming down the stretch,” Horsfield said.

While both players have been rolling it well this week, Horsfield has been a little off with his driver the past couple of rounds. Riley, on the other hand, has been a little more consistent, although Horsfield has proven he can pile up the birdies, too.

This should be a hard-fought match between two match-play workhorses.

Said Horsfield: “I can’t wait.”

• • •

Brentley Romine predicts the semifinal winners (35-25 overall this week): Zalatoris, Horsfield

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