GLENCOE, Ill. – Cheng-Tsung Pan was medalist at last year’s Western Amateur. TCU’s Tom Hoge has never even made the 36-hole cut, and scrambled just to get to this year’s tournament.
Two different paths. The same result. They tied for medalist honors at this year’s Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club. Pan (68) and Hoge (70) both finished stroke play – which was reduced to 54 holes because of rain delays Wednesday – at 6-under 207.
The field was pared to 16 golfers Thursday. Two rounds of match play over each of the next two days will determine a champion.
Pan is approaching his senior year of high school, and has committed to play for Washington in the fall of 2011. He’s used to being advanced for his age. Last year, he became the youngest medalist in Western Amateur history. In 2007, he became the youngest U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist since Bobby Jones.
Like last year, Pan posted a number early and no players surpassed it. He will hope to avoid repeating last year’s match-play performance, though. He lost in the first round to eventual champ John Hahn.
“It’s a surprise to me, again,” Pan said.
Pan is the first player to earn medalist honors at the Western Amateur in consecutive years since PGA Tour player Aron Price in 2003 and ’04.
Hoge has played the Western Amateur five times, but had never made the 36-hole cut until this year. Hoge played a U.S. Amateur qualifier Monday in Fargo, N.D. He won by eight shots, then he and his father, Chuck, made the nine-hour drive in the family’s Yukon from their home state to Illinois. They arrived about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, just a few hours before Hoge’s first-round tee time.
The schedule was hectic, but Hoge was just happy to play after being sidelined with mono from May to July.
“It’s fun to be playing golf again,” Hoge said.
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Philip Francis is expected to give the Arizona State lineup a boost this college season. He helped out teammate Scott Pinckney a little earlier than that, sending him to a Sweet 16 appearance at the Western Amateur.
Pinckney and Francis played together at last week’s Pacific Coast Amateur. Francis told Pinckney that he looked unstable at address, so Pinckney adjusted his setup. Pinckney’s upper body is more upright, while his knees are more bent.
“I’m a lot more stable, so the putter is going back correctly,” Pinckney said.
Pinckney rebounded from a first-round 73 at Skokie to shoot 66-69 and tie for third in stroke play at 5-under 208. Auburn’s Blayne Barber (70) also finished at 5 under.
Pinckney beat Kevin Tway in a playoff to win the Trans-Miss Amateur earlier this summer. Tway was one of six players in a playoff for the final two spots in match play, but failed to advance.
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Michigan’s Lion Kim and Arkansas’ Ethan Tracy rebounded from poor finishes to their college seasons to advance to the Sweet 16.
Kim finished 29th at the Big Ten Championship, and 28th at the NCAA Central Regional. Those finishes led to some self-analysis, especially of his mental game. It paid off with a victory at the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
“I was really down on myself during the college season,” Kim said. “My postseason didn’t go as well as I wanted. After the year was over, I thought through what went wrong. In my opinion, it was my mental game. It was really weak.”
Kim likes his chances in match play, considering he won the U.S. Amateur Public Links earlier this year.
“I feel like now I’m a decent match-play player,” Kim said. “Match play is a grind. You just have to keep pressure on your opponents.”
Tracy was left out of Arkansas’ lineup for the postseason because of poor play. Tracy was No. 109 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings as a freshman, but finished 448th in the rankings this past season.
“It means a lot,” Tracy said of making the Sweet 16. “I’ve been going through some hard times with my golf. I didn’t trust my swing, and everything else went down from there.”
He’s back in good form, coming off a fourth-place finish at the Players Amateur earlier this summer and was medalist at a recent U.S. Amateur qualifier.
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There was a 6-for-2 playoff to determine the final two players to make the Sweet 16. Gregor Main and Chan Kim, two former Sweet 16 participants, made par on Skokie Country Club’s first hole to advance.
The other four participants – Patrick Cantlay, Johan de Beer, Kevin Tway and Peter Uihlein – made bogey.
Main made par despite drawing his “two worst lies of the week,” on the first playoff hole. He hit his tee shot into the left rough, then hit an 8-iron into rough just above a greenside bunker. He had to stand in the bunker while attempting his chip from a buried lie in the rough. He hit it to 7 feet and sank the putt.
Main, a junior at UCLA, had to make a 5-foot par putt on the final hole of regulation to get in the playoff. Main advanced to the quarterfinals in the 2008 Western Amateur.
Kim two-putted from about 50 feet on the first playoff hole, holing a 4-foot putt for par. Kim lost in the first round of match play last year at Conway Farms.
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Stroke play at the Western Amateur was reduced from 72 holes to 54 holes this year because of rain delays Wednesday. Some players still had to play 36 holes Thursday, though. Yaroslav Merkulov, an incoming freshman at Duke, was one of them. Merkulov shot 73-69 to finish at even-par 213, one shot inside the playoff.
A woman in the gallery let out a loud shriek when Merkulov holed a 20-foot birdie putt on his final hole of stroke play, Skokie’s 184-yard, par-3 ninth, to avoid the playoff for the final match-play berths.
Merkulov had to scramble just to make match play, holing three par putts of at least 10 feet on his final nine holes.
“It’s windy out. I have a high ball flight. I can’t hit the ball in the wind,” he said.
Merkulov joined USC’s Jeffrey Kang as incoming freshmen who advanced to match play. Cantlay, an incoming freshman at UCLA, could’ve joined them, but lost in the playoff.
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Australia’s Kieran Pratt birdied Nos. 17 and 18 to finish at even-par 213 and avoid the playoff. “Those holes haven’t been kind to me all week, and I managed to get it done today, which was quite nice,” he said. Pratt hit 8-iron to 1 foot on No. 17, and 7-iron to 15 feet on the final hole.
Pratt fired three consecutive 71s.
Pairings for the first round of match play at the Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Ill. (Note: seed in parenthesis):
(1) Cheng-Tsung Pan vs. (16) Gregor Main
(8) Travis Woolf vs. (9) Andres Echavarria
(4) Blayne Barber vs. (13) Yaroslav Merkulov
(5) Henrik Norlander vs. (12) Kieran Pratt
(2) Tom Hoge vs. (15) Chan Kim
(7) Cam Burke vs. (10) Ethan Tracy
(3) Scott Pinckney vs. (14) David Chung
(6) Jeffrey Kang vs. (11) Lion Kim