BREMERTON, Wash. – So much for that dream matchup in the semifinals. Another birdie barrage from Adam Ball has the unheralded 17-year-old from Richmond, Va., one match away from the finals of the U.S. Junior Amateur.
The only question now is whether he can muster enough magic to knock off the pre-tournament favorite.
Ball defeated stroke-play medalist Beau Hossler, 2 and 1, on Friday morning to advance to the semifinals, where he will face Jordan Spieth, the 2009 U.S. Junior champ, who is attempting to make history here at Gold Mountain.
“Good,” Ball said, smiling, when told he’d face Spieth. “I want a good match with lots of birdies. I’m looking forward to it.”
Spieth, who will turn 18 on July 27, long has been the biggest name in junior golf, and a victory here would cement his place among the greatest junior players of all-time. Only Tiger Woods, who won three consecutive U.S. Junior titles from 1991-93, is a multiple winner of this event.
In the quarterfinals, Spieth faced his toughest challenge yet in 16-year-old Andrew Whalen of Ephrata, Wash. Spieth went 2 up early but stood on the par-3 16th tee all square. Whalen hit first, launching his 6-iron from 185 yards well over the green. He flubbed his second shot, sent his third screaming over the green and took double bogey. Spieth used one club less (7-iron), found the greenside bunker and two-putted to win the hole. He proceeded to win 17 to close out the match.
“That was not as much fun as it should have been,” Spieth said afterward.
Ball, meanwhile, can’t seem to get enough. Late Thursday afternoon, he surged into the quarterfinals with one of the most improbable closing stretches in tournament history, going 6 under par over the final five holes to win, 2 up. He seemed to thrive on the big stage against Hossler on Friday, going for every par 5 in two, seemingly firing at every flag and making four birdies. “I’ve played like that my whole life,” said Ball.
Hossler, who in the past two months has qualified for the U.S. Open and won the Callaway Junior World Championship, sank a 20-foot birdie putt on 16 to extend the match but couldn’t sustain the brief rally. “I never got anything going,” Hossler, 16, said. “I didn’t play terrible today, but you can’t beat a guy with pars.”
In the other quarterfinal matches, William Starke was all square when he attempted to drive the green on the reachable, 305-yard 18th but didn’t clear the hazard. He lost to Chelso Barrett, 1 up.
And Nicolas Echavarria of Colombia, who tied for third at last week’s Callaway Junior Worlds, seized the lead on the second hole and never relinquished it, defeating Ryan Benton, 2 and 1, to reach the semis.