CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Australian Oliver Goss had trouble picking his best shot on a day when he played 37 holes to advance to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Amateur.
Where to begin? First he gushed about the 9-iron he stiffed to 6 inches at the par-3 12th hole. Moments later he began rhapsodizing about the 5-iron he ripped from 250 yards on the par-5 17th hole to 18 feet that helped him square his match with Michael Miller. In the end, none could compare with the shot that carried him to victory in extra holes of his morning match. Goss had chunked his tee shot on the 412-yard second hole. He had 190 yards into the wind.
“I just cleaned an 8-iron off the sand and it just flew the bunker, hopped on the green to 5 feet and I made the putt,” Goss said. “That had to be the best shot.”
So many shots from which to choose, yet not one from his afternoon match when he defeated 27-year-old Bobby Leopold of Cranston, R.I., 2 and 1.
Leopold? He didn’t hesitate. He drove the first green against Goss, made the 5-footer for eagle, and would jump to a 2-up lead. But that was where the Arnold Palmer comparisons ended. Goss rallied by capitalizing on his opponent’s mistakes. Leopold flared his hybrid tee shot to the right out of bounds and lost the 13th to square the match. At 16, he pushed his tee shot into the right fairway bunker, leading to bogey. Trailing for the first time all day, Leopold attempted to reach the par-5 17th in two with a 5-iron and landed in the water fronting the green.
“I decided I was going to go for it no matter what,” Leopold said. “I felt like I hit it pretty good.”
For the second year in a row, Leopold was eliminated in the Round of 16. He was the oldest player and only mid-amateur remaining in the field (none has won the championship since John Harris in 1993).
Goss, 18, an incoming freshman at the University of Tennessee, is the youngest remaining competitor in the field. This is the first USGA event for the latest product of Golf Australia, a state-run golf development program for the country’s young talent. Goss won the Western Australian Amateur this year, and has played extensively in Asia the last few months on Australia’s junior world team, at the Malaysian Amateur and Japan Amateur.
“We made sure we got him some international experience so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed,” said Brad James, director of high performance golf at Golf Australia.
It has paid off. Daniel Nesbet, Cameron Smith and Jake Higginbottom are more highly-touted than Goss, but none of them even made match play. Of the four Aussies to advance, Goss is the only one left. He has had a different friend caddie for him each match: Higginbottom in the Round of 64, Brett Drewitt in the Round of 32 and Matthew Stieger in the Round of 16. So far, Goss has been taking advantage of his raw talent. He’s a bomber, and he has been booming it high and far in the thin air of the Colorado Rockies.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “On 17, I hit a 3-iron 330 yards. You shouldn’t be able to do that.”
Goss will face Justin Thomas in one of Friday’s four quarterfinal matches, beginning at 8:30 a.m. local time.