The U.S. Amateur begins today at Colorado’s Cherry Hills Country Club, the site of several memorable championships. Here’s 5 Things you need to know as the tournament gets underway:
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1. TOUGH ENOUGH: Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, the past two U.S. Amateur sites, were links-inspired layouts that opened in the past decade and used the Amateur as test runs for future U.S. Opens. This week will break that trend. Cherry Hills is a classic USGA layout that presents the traditional challenges of a national championship, namely firm conditions and penalizing rough.
Cherry Hills has hosted championships claimed by Hall of Famers and a women’s championship with a most unexpected result. Arnold Palmer shot a final-round 65 here to win the 1960 U.S. Open over an amateur Jack Nicklaus and an aging Ben Hogan. Phil Mickelson won his lone U.S. Amateur there 30 years later. Birdie Kim won her only LPGA title at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open when she holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole. This is the ninth USGA championship at Cherry Hills, one of just three courses to host the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open.
Jordan Spieth, who played Cherry Hills during a recent media day, said: “There’s a lot of risk-reward. You have to be extremely smart going around that track. You can hit drivers on a lot of holes, but you have to hit a really good one to fly the fairway bunkers and you have to hit it really straight.
“It was extremely difficult, very close to how Olympic (site of this year’s U.S. Open) played. … The greens at Cherry Hills are just as difficult. They’re so firm, they’re small and they have a lot of slope to them.”
Cherry Hills Country Club will be set up at 7,409 yards, but it plays shorter because of altitude.
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2. RACE FOR NO. 1: The Mark H. McCormack Medal has been awarded since 2007. It used to be little more than a point of pride. Now the prize carries two big perks: spots in the U.S. Open and Open Championship. Those exemptions were announced after last year’s U.S. Amateur, but had no impact on the player they were awarded to. Patrick Cantlay, the 2011 McCormack Medal winner, already was exempt for this year’s U.S. Open by virtue of his runner-up finish at the U.S. Amateur and turned professional before the Open Championship, making him ineligible to accept the exemption.
The McCormack Medal is given to the No. 1 player in the R&A World Amateur Rankings after the U.S. Amateur or European Amateur, whichever ends later. Those events mark the end of the summer amateur season. Wales’ Rhys Pugh, an East Tennessee State sophomore, won last week’s European Amateur.
It’s a tight race for No. 1. Three players have held that spot since the U.S. Open. Washington senior Chris Williams will start this week at No. 1. He jumped from fourth to first with his Western Amateur win. No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama, the two-time Asian Amateur champ, held the No. 1 spot the previous week. Third-ranked Jordan Spieth also held the top spot earlier this summer after his 21st-place finish in the U.S. Open. They’re followed by Daan Huizing, who’s not competing at the Amateur, Justin Thomas and Germany’s Marcel Schneider. The rankings are updated each Wednesday, meaning these positions could change mid-tournament.
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3. HELLO WORLD: The three-man United States roster for the upcoming World Amateur Team Championship is expected to be finalized this week. The WATC doesn’t get as much attention as the Walker Cup, but it’s the closest thing golf has to an Olympic competition, until, of course, golf rejoins the Olympics in 2016. This year’s WATC is scheduled for Oct. 4-7 in Turkey.
Jordan Spieth, the world’s No. 3 amateur, told Golfweek he’s “undecided” about whether he’d accept a spot on the team, should one be offered. The Texas sophomore has a busy fall ahead of him. He’s playing for his Longhorns and scheduled to attend PGA Tour Q-School as an amateur. Spieth, the low amateur at this year’s U.S. Open (T-21) and member of last year’s Walker Cup team, is exempt into Q-School’s second stage.
Chris Williams, the world’s No. 1 amateur and recent Western Amateur champion, is likely a lock to be one of the three selections. The Western Am is one of amateur golf’s biggest prizes, and Williams already has represented the USGA at another international competition, the 2011 Walker Cup. Justin Thomas, the consensus college player of the year this past season, also is a strong contender for a roster spot. Bobby Wyatt and Peter Williamson have made strong cases for inclusion, as well.
Thomas is seeking a spot on the team after a poor 2011 that kept him from being considered for the Walker Cup. He said self-imposed pressure kept him from performing well last year, but he rebounded to win four times in his freshman season at Alabama, and claim the 2012 Jones Cup.
“It’d be satisfying for me. It’d be a really cool honor,” Thomas said. “I hope that I do enough to be picked, because it would be a really cool accomplishment.”
The U.S. Amateur champion, if American, will be selected for the team.
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4. CHASING TIGER: Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods are the only players to win multiple U.S. Junior Amateurs. Spieth accomplished that feat by winning his second Junior last year. He’s trying this week to match another feat performed only by Woods: win both the U.S. Junior and U.S. Amateur. This may be Spieth’s last attempt at the Havemeyer Trophy.
Spieth, a member of the United States’ 2011 Walker Cup team, has had plenty of success in USGA events. He was 21st at this year’s U.S. Open and a quarterfinalist at last year’s U.S. Amateur. Spieth lost, 1 down, to Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team member Jack Senior in last year’s quarterfinals. Spieth lost the final hole after finding three bunkers.
Spieth played mostly professional events this summer, finishing 58th at the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic and 44th at the Web.com Tour’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, in addition to the U.S. Open. He passed on the recent Western Amateur to rest for this week.
“I feel rested. That’s the big thing,” Spieth said. “I felt like I got a lot of time to get in shape, get working out and to see my instructor (Cameron McCormick). We’ve been working a lot on my putting. The letdown this summer was not being able to putt well on certain greens. It’s coming together at the right time.”
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5. MAJOR SONS: The sons of two major champions will be in the field at Cherry Hills. Gary Nicklaus, the son of Jack Nicklaus, qualified, as did Larry Mize’s son, Robert. Jack Nicklaus made history at Cherry Hills, finishing second as an amateur at the 1960 U.S. Open there. He shot 282, setting the record for low 72-hole score by an amateur, to finish two shots behind Arnold Palmer. Gary Nicklaus is a former PGA Tour player and reinstated amateur.
Robert Mize, 19, is a redshirt freshman at Furman. Gary Nicklaus, 43, regained his amateur status in 2007 after playing 122 PGA Tour events, finishing runner-up to Phil Mickelson at the 2000 BellSouth Classic. He also played in the 1997 and 2001 U.S. Opens.