TRUCKEE, Calif. –– Just one round into the 66th U.S. Junior Amateur and it’s already shaping up to be an interesting week.
Storylines are aplenty at Martis Camp Club.
Texas commit Scottie Scheffler got things started early Monday by posting a 5-under 67, one shot off the course record of 66. He’s joined in first place by Corey Eddings, who lives in Roseville, Calif., which is less than two hours from Truckee.
Just two shots back of them is 2010 U.S. Junior champion Jim Liu, who is competing in his fifth and final Junior Amateur. He’s trying to become just the third player to win this event multiple times – Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth have won three and two U.S. Junior titles, respectively.
Sam Horsfield, who recently won the Florida State Amateur, also lurks close behind at 2 under while Brad Dalke sits at even par. Both players played in the afternoon, too, when the greens were firmer and the wind picked up.
Then there’s 13-year-old Shuai Ming Wong of Beijing. He’s currently in position to make match play with one round of stroke play remaining after shooting 4-over 76. And his caddie? Well, he’s 13, too.
Here are 5 Things you need to know from Monday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying at the U.S. Junior Amateur:
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1. YOUNG GUNS: Shuai Ming Wong, 13, is the second youngest player in this year’s field – Patrick Welch is the youngest by about four months. But when you combine his age with his caddie’s, they’re barely old enough to rent a car.
That’s because Wong’s caddie, Frankie Capan, is also 13 years old. And the two braved the 7,740-yard Martis Camp Club better than most on Monday.
Wong, who goes by Ben, shot 4-over 76, but closed with an even-par 36 on the back nine.
“Made a lot of nervous putts on that back nine, and that really got me back,” Wong said.
Forgive Wong if he was a little nervous on the first green, where he three-putted for bogey. But despite his inexperience, he settled down with some good iron play and a little encouragement from his friend Frankie, whom he’s known since he was 6 years old.
“When I was down he cheered me up,” said Wong, who lives in Beijing but knows Capan, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., through junior golf. Capan’s family helped Wong register for his U.S. Junior Qualifier in Sparks, Nev., which he won.
“He’s been really focused and mapped everything out. He’s the best caddie I’ve ever had.”
OK, so Wong isn’t old enough to have had many caddies, but the youthful duo got off to a good start Monday and they plan to continue that on Tuesday. Wong is currently inside the projected cut for match play.
“I wish I could be playing, but it was still a lot of fun,” said Capan, who missed out on qualifying for the second straight year. “I think my player can make it all the way.”
Spoken like a true caddie.
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2. CAPAN SR. TO DALKE’S RESCUE: Frankie Capan isn’t the only Capan caddying this week. And he isn’t the only Capan whose player is in good shape after Monday’s opening round.
Capan’s father, Frank Sr., is on Brad Dalke’s bag after Dalke showed up in Truckee without a caddie for the week.
“My friend who works at the hotel we’re all staying at saw (Dalke’s mom) Kay’s OU golf shirt and said, ‘Hey, I have a buddy coming up here for the tournament with his son,” Capan said.
Long story short, Kay Dalke also had a family friend coming up for the tournament with his son – a friend named Frank Capan.
“She asked if I could caddy for Brad and I said I’d be happy to,” Capan said.
Now Dalke is just five off the lead after an afternoon even-par 72.
The Capans and the Dalkes met a few years back after Brad and Frankie Jr. became friends playing junior tournaments together. The Dalkes stayed at the Capans house in Scottsdale, Ariz., a couple weeks ago when Brad played in the Rolex Tournament of Champions. Brad introduced Frankie to the Jim McLean Golf Academy.
Fast forward to Monday and the caddie selection seems to be paying off for Dalke. He struggled early with his distances in the high altitude. But after adding 5-10 yards on to the 10 percent he took off in the mountain air, Dalke started to hit more greens. He fought back with two birdies on the back nine, including one at the short par-4 16th.
“Front nine I hit a lot of good shots, just ended up short,” Dalke said. “Finally I got my yardages right and on the back nine I started giving myself good looks for birdie.
“I’m so happy with even par in the afternoon; it feels like if I shot 3 or 4 under in the morning.”
Now Dalke will get a crack at more favorable conditions Tuesday morning.
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3. SAM THE MAN: Sam Horsfield likes his chances in match play should he qualify.
It’s a format he’s definitely had to get used to, but one his personality thrives in.
“It’s kind of growing on me as I get more experience in it,” said Horsfield, who birdied three of his final four holes Monday afternoon to card a 2-under 70.
Horsfield, who recently cruised to the Florida State Amateur title, advanced to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Public Links last week. He also made it to the second round of match play at last year’s U.S. Junior and contended at this year’s Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
His game is firing on all cylinders right now. He’s confident, too. Not to mention he has a big fan base backed by one Ian Poulter, whom he’s beaten in match play before.
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4. GUESS WHO? IT’S JIM LIU: Yes, Jim Liu is back in the conversation at the U.S. Junior.
Competing in the event for the fifth time, the Stanford signee and 2010 U.S. Junior champion shot 3-under 69 Monday. But he struggled down the stretch, bogeying Nos. 16 and 18.
“It was a good score; you have to feel somewhat decent about it,” said Liu, who lost in the final last year to Andy Shim. “You are trying not to dig a hole for yourself. It starts all over in match play.”
And Liu knows a thing or two about that.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Sam Burns’ sister, Tori, is on the bag for him this week in Truckee. But don’t expect her to be reading any greens or judging distances. She doesn’t play the sport. “She’s the only one in my family, so I figured I’d let her be on the bag,” said Burns, whose mom recently caddied for him at the Western Junior. Burns shot 4-over 76 Monday and is in position at the moment to make match play. . . . Doug Ghim watched fellow Texas commit Scottie Scheffler grab a share of the first-round lead before going out and carding a 5-over 77. One highlight, though, was his eagle at the par-4 16th, a hole he drove the green and then made a 4-foot putt. . . . George Cunningham, competing in his fourth U.S. Junior, shot the best round of the afternoon, a 3-under 69.