CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Justin Thomas’ hands were shaking as he placed his ball on Cherry Hills Country Club’s 17th green. He was facing a crucial putt as his match against one of the world’s top amateurs was coming to a close.
Thomas made the 15-footer for birdie to go 1 up. A regulation par at the 18th allowed him to close out that tough foe, 1 up, and advance to the U.S. Amateur’s quarterfinals. The identity of that opponent – Bobby Wyatt, Thomas’ friend, Alabama teammate and this week’s medalist – made the emotions more complex after Thomas had closed out victory, though. He will face Australia’s Oliver Goss in the quarterfinals.
Thomas calls the U.S. Amateur his favorite tournament. “It’s just awesome,” he said. “That match-play feeling, you just never have that. That was the most nervous I’ve been in a really long time.”
And for good reason. The match between the two Tide teammates returned to all-square three times, and was tied as late as the 16th hole. Thomas was conflicted after the tight victory, though.
“It’s hard,” he said. “You want to say, ‘I’m sorry, man,’ but at the same time that’s what you’re here to do and you have to worry about that. … I didn’t realize how tough that would be until 18.”
Both players had to lay up on the par-5 17th, which features an island green. Wyatt hit first, sending his wedge shot over the green. Thomas left his 50-yard approach about 15 feet short. Wyatt chipped to tap-in range, but Thomas curled in his birdie putt to take a 1-up lead.
Thomas then hit 6-iron to 30 feet on the 18th, while Wyatt blocked his tee shot into the right rough and had to chip out short of the green. He missed the green with his third shot and conceded the match after Thomas lagged his birdie putt to inches.
“We are great friends on and off the golf course,” Wyatt said. He and Thomas live in apartments across the hall from each other. “I’m very happy for him. … It was mostly business today, and unfortunately I didn’t get the job done.”
Wyatt was 2 up after six holes, but Thomas won No. 7 with par. He then hit 9-iron to 20 feet on the 184-yard, par-3 eighth hole and made the birdie putt to square the match. He won the par-4 10th with par and the par-3 12th with a bogey to go 2 up. Both players hit their tee shots on No. 12 long and left; Wyatt three-putted from about 50 feet, and Thomas missed a 30-footer for par. Wyatt called that the match’s turning point. “He short-sided himself, and I did it right on top of him,” Wyatt said. “You can’t let bogeys beat you.”
The match was hardly over at that point, though. Thomas lost Nos. 13 and 15 with bogeys to let the match get back to all square.
Thomas was this year’s Haskins Award winner, an honor presented to college golf’s player of the year, and Wyatt has been one of amateur golf’s strongest performers this summer. He won the Sunnehanna Amateur, was medalist at the U.S. Amateur, runner-up at the Southern Amateur and Players Amateur and had top 5s at the Dogwood and Northeast. Thomas is No. 5 in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking, while Wyatt is ranked sixth.
And Thomas was the better player Thursday.
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Chris Williams, the world’s No. 1 amateur, continued his quest to the Havemeyer Trophy with a 3-and-2 victory over France’s Edouard Espana in the Round of 16. Williams will face Chattanooga’s Steven Fox in the quarterfinals.
When Williams was asked if his No. 1 ranking makes him an intimidating opponent, the skinny Washington senior replied, “No. Look at me. I’m wearing pink.”
Williams, though, has been a tough opponent. He has yet to play the 17th or 18th holes in any of his first three matches.
“I never got out of myself,” Williams said. “Luckily I got up early in both of my matches (Thursday) and just kind of held that the whole way. You cannot get out of yourself out here.”
Williams is one of two Washington Huskies among the eight players remaining at Cherry Hills. Cheng-Tsung Pan, who was a quarterfinalist as a 15-year-old at the 2007 U.S. Amateur, also advanced. “I didn’t know any English at that time,” said Pan, of Taiwan. “I had no idea why you guys were talking to me. Now my English is much better, and I feel good about myself. I feel comfortable. … It’s good to be back here.”
Washington head coach Matt Thurmond is caddieing this week for Pan, who could face Williams in the semifinals. Thurmond joked that he would carry both bags if the teammates played each other, but said it was more likely that he would not carry Pan’s bag in that potential matchup.
Pan closed his match in style, hitting his 6-iron approach to No. 18 within 5 feet to beat LSU’s Andrew Presley, 2 up.
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Michael Weaver mounted quite a comeback to advance to the quarterfinals. He was 2 down with two holes remaining, but won three consecutive holes for a 19-hole victory over Canada’s Albin Choi.
Weaver hit his 8-iron second shot on the par-5 16th to the back fringe. He ran the downhill 20-footer some 7 feet past the hole but made the comebacker. He got up-and-down from left of the 18th green to win the hole with par, then hit a long bunker shot on the drivable par-4 first hole to within inches to win the hole.
“I hit an awesome bunker shot,” Weaver said. “It was just how I wanted it. It was nice to not have to worry about a putt.”
Weaver is one of two Cal players in the quarterfinals, joining Brandon Hagy, who beat Patrick Newcomb, 3 and 2, in the Round of 16. That means half of the quarterfinalists come from two Pac-12 schools, Cal and Washington.
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ROUND OF 16
- Justin Thomas def. Bobby Wyatt, 1 up
- Oliver Goss def. Bobby Leopold, 2 and 1
- Ricardo Gouveia def. Devon Purser, 6 and 4
- Michael Weaver def. Albin Choi, 19 holes
- Steven Fox def. Zack Munroe, 2 up
- Chris Williams def. Edouard Espana, 3 and 2
- Cheng-Tsung Pan def. Andrew Presley, 2 up
- Brandon Hagy def. Patrick Newcomb, 3 and 2