STRATHAM, N.H. -– Two days are in the books (well, sort of) at the 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur and already there have been numerous storylines coming out of the Golf Club of New England.
A trio of golfers – Jim Liu, the 2010 champion, Nicolas Echavarria, a defending semifinalist, and Shintaro Ban – tied for medalist honors.
Defending runner-up Chelso Barrett failed to make match play. Beau Hossler flirted with the cut line before charging back to make the cut. Andy Zhang made the cut, but it wasn’t pretty.
And a slew of others – fresh and new faces alike – turned in two solid stroke-play rounds to enter Wednesday with their championship dreams still intact.
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1. BAN’S THE MAN: Shintaro Ban, who tied for medalist honors Tuesday, is no stranger to match play.
He is, however, unfamiliar with USGA championships.
The 16-year-old from San Jose, Calif., playing in his first U.S. Junior Amateur, shot 3-under 69 during the second and final round of stroke play to finish at 3 under.
“Shooting under par is all I ever asked for,” said Ban, who enters match play as the top seed. “It’s amazing, especially in my first USGA event.”
The rising high school junior at Archbishop Mitty likes his chances in match play. He won the Northern California Championship in Ripon, Calif., last month and followed that with a semifinal appearance at the San Francisco City Championship.
Not to mention his five years of experience playing in the Bay Cities League of Junior Golfers, a match-play league in which Ban plays for his former club, Saratoga Country Club.
Ban started his second round at the Golf Club of New England with four birdies on the front. He added a fifth on the par-3 14th, where he sank about a 40-foot putt after finding the very back of the green with his tee shot. Four of his five birdies were on putts outside of 10 feet.
His only mistakes came at Nos. 15 and 18. He hooked his drive into the hazard on No. 15, but then went up-and-down for bogey. On No. 18, he found a greenside bunker and left his shot out of the sand well short.
“The rough is pretty tough,” Ban said. “It makes you want to hit it in the fairway. It’s a challenge.”
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2. CALIFORNIA LOVE: While Ban is near the top of the leaderboard, so is the person he beat in Ripon last month: Andrew Bonner.
Bonner, playing in his second U.S. Junior, shot even-par 72 Tuesday to finish T-4 at 2 under and safely qualify for what will be his first match-play event since his loss to Ban.
“He’s another Northern California kid and I’m always supporting Northern California kids because that’s where I’m from and I like to see them do well,” said Bonner, a Ripon native.
Bonner didn’t do too shabby himself Tuesday. He started off slow – 5 over through six holes – but caught fire after holing out for birdie on No. 18, his ninth hole.
On his back nine, Bonner registered four birdies and no bogeys.
“Obviously I don’t like to start out like that, but I’ve always been known to be a grinder and I never quit,” Bonner said. “I knew I could always come back. I never get discouraged. I know I’m a better player than that and I can turn it around when I need to.”
Bonner failed to advance past the first round of match play last year, losing to Chelso Barrett.
But if Tuesday’s finish is any indication, he plans to turn that around as well.
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3. ZHANG IN THERE: Andy Zhang was the youngest golfer in USGA history to compete in a U.S. Open last month at The Olympic Club.
The 14-year-old missed the cut, but instantly became one of the best-known junior golfers in the country. He won the Florida State Junior earlier this month and entered the U.S. Junior with some pretty lofty expectations.
“When I come here, it takes pressure off me, but at the same time, you want to do good because what I’ve done has set a higher goal for me,” said Zhang, who qualified for match play after a final-round, 5-over 77.
“People who follow you want you to do a good job. Not making it to match play would have been kind of humiliating for me.”
Zhang, who finished two rounds at 7 over, is into the Round of 64, but it wasn’t pretty. He began his round with par-bogey-bogey-double.
“That’s just a really bad start,” Zhang said. “I wasn’t focusing enough. I was just too relaxed.”
But Zhang, who battled troubles off the tee all day, remained focused. Birdies on Nos. 5 and 14 were his only of the day, but huge ones nonetheless.
“I didn’t hit many fairways, but I grinded it out,” Zhang said. “I made a lot of up-and-downs and calculated my yardage distances pretty good out of the rough.”
Zhang hit the range after his round. He’ll need to fine-tune some things, but if there’s one thing his experience at The Olympic Club has taught him, it’s seeing the bigger picture.
“All I tried to do was make it to match play,” Zhang said. “There’s no point in being medalist in stroke play because you don’t get anything out of it. Maybe a, ‘good job,’ but that’s it.”
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4. WE’RE TALKING ABOUT A PLAYOFF: Following Tuesday’s final round of stroke play, seven golfers were T-64. That means a 7-for-1 playoff for the final match-play spot. Only, we’ll have to wait until Wednesday.
With rain expected to move in Tuesday night, USGA officials decided the playoff will take place starting at 7:30 Wednesday morning.
The playoff includes seven golfers who finished at 9 over: Ben Schlottman, Ryan Celano, Connor Flach, Addison Coll, Nicholas Crozier, Tyler Kertson and Josh Whalen.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Sure, Chelso Barrett didn’t have the U.S. Junior many expected him to have, but those he beat in match play last year had quite the success. Four of the five golfers Barrett beat in 2011 – Jim Liu, Nicolas Echavarria, Andrew Bonner and William Zalatoris – made the cut Tuesday. . . . Echavarria made the semifinals last year before his 2-and-1 loss to Barrett. He will get another shot at the title after finishing runner-up at the Golf Club of New England. . . . First-round leader Max McGreevy, who fired a 4-under 68 on Monday, faltered in the final round of stroke play, carding a 7-over 79 to finish at 3 over. . . . The first U.S. Junior Amateur in the state of New Hampshire has garnered praise so far, but that still doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been difficult. Proof? Sixteen golfers finished with two-round scores of 20-over or worse.