CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Justin Thomas may only be 19 years old, but when it comes to golf, he’s been around the block plenty of times and faced his share of ups and downs.
Mostly, Thomas knows it’s not how you start but how you finish, especially when it comes to match play.
The sophomore at Alabama from Goshen, Ky., was 2 down on the front side in his second- and third-round matches and came back to win both at this year’s U.S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club.
The first-team All-America again was 2 down – after four holes – Friday in his quarterfinal match with Tennessee incoming freshman Oliver Goss, 18, of Australia.
And like the day before, Thomas charged back to win, this time scoring a 2-up victory, which sends him into Saturday’s semifinal against Michael Weaver, a junior at California who rolled to a 4-and-3 victory over Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia, a junior at Central Florida.
“It’s good to know that I’ve done (comeback) before,” said Thomas, who last season won the Nicklaus Award and Haskins Award as player of the year and the Mickelson Award as freshman of the year. “At the same time, it would be a lot nicer if I wasn’t 2 down. But I just seem to have a hard time getting off to a hot start. Hopefully I can change that.”
The other semifinal will pit Brandon Hagy, a junior at California, against Steven Fox, a senior at Tennessee-Chattanooga. Hagy defeated Cheng-Tsung Pan, a sophomore at Washington, 4 and 3, while Fox turned back Chris Williams, a senior at Washington and No. 1 in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking, 4 and 2.
It marks the first time since 2002 that four Americans have advanced to the semifinal round in this championship.
Goss, who won the stroke- and match-play portions at this year’s Western Australian Amateur and was runner-up at the Australian Amateur, won the third hole with a birdie and fourth with par to go 2 up.
Thomas, who finished No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings last season, kicked into gear, winning Nos. 7-9 to go 1 up.
“That was a key stretch,” Thomas said. “It was a big momentum shift.”
Goss came back to win the 10th with a birdie, but Thomas birdied Nos. 11 and 12 to go 2 up and maintained that margin through 16.
But he lost the par-5, 17th to a bogey as he made a triple. He missed the fairway with a 4-iron off the tee and came up with “an awful lie” in the rough. He managed to knock his next shot out between a small opening and found himself 171 yards away.
He then hit a 9-iron shot into a water hazard, acknowledging, “It was pretty poor course management by myself.”
“I had to go to the drop zone, and he hit it close. I knew I couldn’t just hit it to 20 feet. I wanted to give myself a reasonable putt,” Thomas said. “I went ahead and chipped that in the water for a nice 8.”
At 18, Thomas missed the green right in the heavy rough, about 60 feet from the pin. Goss went long and was about 50 feet away, just off the green on the fringe.
Thomas hit an incredible chip shot to within 3 feet and Goss’ putt rolled 5 feet past the hole. After Goss missed his par effort, he conceded Thomas’ par putt and the match.
“That chip was awesome,” said Thomas, who won four times as a freshman, including the SEC and NCAA Southeast Regional championships. “It was a cool feeling. I was nervous, but it was a good kid of nervous. And it was really cool to pull that off.”
Thomas is now one match away from advancing to Sunday’s 36-hole championship final and gaining invitations to next year’s Masters and U.S. Open. But, like he has all week, he’s staying in the present.
“You can’t get ahead of yourself and can’t think about anything that could happen in the future,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s to get in the finals or it’s to get into the second round. You’ve got to just try to beat that person and just try to play smart, but aggressive at the same time.
“You’ve just got to try to win more holes than the other guy so you can keep moving on,” he said.
So far, Thomas has been doing that – and making things pretty exciting along the way.
• • •
Justin Thomas def. Oliver Goss, 2 up
Michael Weaver def. Ricardo Gouveia, 4 and 3
Steven Fox def. Chris Williams, 4 and 2
Brandon Hagy def. Cheng-Tsung Pan, 4 and 3