STRATHAM, N.H. – Nicolas Echavarria is a year removed from advancing to the semifinals of the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur.
Sure, he lost to eventual runner-up Chelso Barrett, but the experience he gained last year at Gold Mountain Golf Club has showed itself so far in Stratham.
“It’s good for me to have been in the semifinals last year,” said Echavarria, who rallied to defeat Jacob Ross, 2 up, in the Round of 64 on Wednesday at the Golf Club of New England.
“I have more experience from that. I learned that I can never give up, especially if I’m 2 down.”
There’s no doubt Echavarria has grown as a player – he tied for medalist honors Tuesday and earned the second seed for match play. And perhaps no one has noticed the improvement more than his caddie, and brother, Andres.
“He’s a better player now,” said Andres, a former golfer at the University of Florida who also caddied for his brother at last year’s U.S. Junior.
“He finished first in qualifying, which is a pretty good indication of how much better he’s gotten.”
His performance Wednesday wasn’t too shabby, either. Nicolas was 2 down after 13 holes and Ross looked to be in control, making shot after shot, including sticking his approach shot to two feet at No. 11.
“We were joking saying that he doesn’t look like a No. 63 seed,” Andres said.
Nicolas took advantage on the next two holes, making par while Ross bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15. At No. 16, the two traded bogeys and Ross walked off the green noticeably frustrated.
Nicolas remained calm. He had spent most of the day talking and joking with Andres. He even gave some kids watching him on the front nine a pair of high fives.
“It’s really comfortable with Andres on the bag,” Nicolas said. “He knows a lot of golf. He makes me more calm. I think it’s easier because I think I have the best caddie in the field.”
Nicolas was loose, and it would pay off at the end.
Ross found the water twice on the par-3 17th and conceded the hole. Then after both golfers drove it into some rough left of the green on No. 18, Echavarria’s approach was better, finding the green after hitting his 7-iron 180 yards.
He putted to about three feet while Ross’ chip rolled well past the hole.
Nicolas walked off the green with a smile on his face. But Andres’ was bigger.
“It’s a very satisfactory win,” said Andres, who will play on the PGA Latino America Tour starting in September.
Andres, after all, has never made it past the first round of match play in USGA competition. He lost to Carter Newman in the Round of 64 at the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay. And he also fell in the first round at his only U.S. Junior – 2005 to Jamie Lovemark.
“He’s definitely done a lot better than I have,” Andres said of his younger brother, who will play at Arkansas in the fall.
Andres knows Nicolas has what it takes to pull it off this week in New Hampshire. He was there last year when Nicolas came so close and knows how that loss has motivated his brother.
He also knows Nicolas’ game better, too, which is why the brothers could make a winning combination come Saturday.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Andres said. “I think I know his game a lot more than I did last year. I know how far he hits it and I know he trusts me a lot. I think we make a great team.”