BREMERTON, Wash. – Not even a hole-in-one could prevent 17-year-old Connor Klein from being penalized for slow play at the U.S. Junior Amateur. That he was docked the stroke on his aced hole only added to the cruelty.
During Monday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying at Gold Mountain, Klein and his fellow playing competitors – Andrew Bonner of Ripon, Calif., and Alex Church of Timonium, Md. – were warned while making the turn that they had fallen 20 minutes behind.
On the second hole, his 11th of the day, Klein blew his tee shot way off line, onto the adjoining Cascade Course, and took the allotted five minutes to find his ball while the other two players finished out.
Klein, however, made quick work of the 170-yard, par-3 fifth: He aced it. Unfortunately, No. 5 also represented one of the four U.S. Golf Association’s checkpoint stations, and all three players were docked a stroke for slow play.
After the round, the threesome appealed the penalty to USGA officials. Only Klein was forced to add a stroke, which meant turning his hole-in-one on No. 5 into a birdie.
“Poor play is not held against the group,” said the USGA’s David Staebler, tournament director at the U.S. Junior Amateur. “It’s what else that player is doing. Are they making an effort to play promptly? And after receiving a warning, is it apparent to the rules committee that that player is doing anything different from before to get his group back in position?
“Unfortunately, we can’t change our policy because someone made a 1. I wish it could have come on a different hole for him.”
Said Geoff Yang, the chairman of the U.S. Junior Amateur: “It’s just an unfortunate coincidence.”
Klein, of Lone Tree, Colo., said in an email to Golfweek: “I’d like to reserve any comments about my hole-in-one until the tournament is completed on Saturday. The focus should be placed on the players who are still competing and their accomplishments. I’m in communication with the tournament director now to get clarity around receiving credit for the hole-in-one, becoming only the 12th player in history with an ace.”
Had all three players in the group been penalized, Bonner would have missed the cut by one stroke. Instead, he advanced out of a 12-for-10 playoff and will face Chelso Barrett at 11:30 a.m. local time.
Klein, No. 2,851 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, shot 82-78 in stroke-play qualifying and missed the cut by eight strokes.
“Connor took it very well,” said Robb Hoover, who caddied in the group for Bonner. “He was distraught at first, and his round wasn’t going well for starters, but it all sort of tumbled down.
“But it was horrible, just horrible,” Hoover said. “What are the chances of that happening? Millions-to-1, probably.”