TRUCKEE, Calif. –– Davis Riley didn’t know what to expect heading into his semifinal match with John Augenstein Friday at the 66th U.S. Junior Amateur.
“I hadn’t heard of him,” Riley said.
Scottie Scheffler, on the other hand, was quite familiar with his semifinal opponent, friend and fellow Texas commit Doug Ghim.
“I knew he’d been playing well, so I knew I had to do something special if I wanted to beat him,” Scheffler said.
Different levels of familiarity. Same result.
Riley took his first lead of the match on the eighth hole and ended up with a 4-and-3 victory over Augenstein. Scheffler never trailed in his match against Ghim, pulling away on the back nine en route to a 6-and-4 win.
Now Riley and Scheffler will square off in the 36-hole final Saturday at Martis Camp Club. And as for familiarity? That won’t be a problem.
“We know each other really well, and we know we’re going to have a tough road ahead,” Riley said.
Said Scheffler: “I like Davis. Davis is a good guy. We have some similarities. He plays other sports. He likes country music.”
Scheffler found his rhythm early on against Ghim, who was coming off a 4-and-3 victory over Cameron Young in the quarterfinals. He made a 30-footer for birdie at the par-4 first hole before making another birdie at the par-4 second to go 2 up.
“I kind of got into a groove after that,” Scheffler said.
Ghim did square the match after a birdie at the par-5 seventh, but Scheffler got it right back with par at the par-3 eighth. Scheffler then won the next three holes, including the par-5 10th, where he made a 10-footer for eagle.
After making a tough downhill putt to halve No. 12, Scheffler drained a 30-footer for birdie at No. 14. It was nearly the same putt he had earlier in the day when he beat P.J. Samiere, 3 and 2. He then hit a “lucky” 9-iron that ended up about 2 feet for the hole at the par-3 14th hole to seal the victory.
“I didn’t really play that bad,” Ghim said. “What can you do when a kid makes a 30-footer on you on (No.)13 and then he goes and sticks it to a foot (at No. 14)?
“There’s a lot on the line, but me and Scottie have played a lot (together). . . . The stakes were a little higher this time and it was a different format, but he just got the best of me today.”
Like Scheffler, Riley drew a player coming off an impressive quarterfinal victory. Augenstein had beaten Sam Horsfield earlier in the day in 20 holes, and also beat medalist Jim Liu in the Round of 32 on Thursday.
And after the first hole, it looked like the 15-year-old Augenstein’s magical run through the match-play bracket would continue. Riley bogeyed the opening hole to fall 1 down and Augenstein help a slim advantage through three holes.
But Riley, who hadn’t trailed in his previous two matches, remained steady. He birdied the par-5 fourth to even the match and then birdied the par-3 eighth, sticking a 5-iron to 8 feet to take a 1-up lead. The victory at No. 8 began a stretch of three straight holes won for Riley, as Augenstein couldn’t get anything going with the putter after making two match-winning putts earlier in match play.
“He hit a lot of great shots, and I didn’t,” Augenstein said. “I didn’t play very good and my putter wasn’t nearly as good as it has been.”
Said Riley: “He’s a great golfer. We’ll be seeing his name a lot.”
Riley went 4 up after a bogey at the par-4 13th and then closed out the match with par at the par-5 15th.
“It’s the semifinals, of course it’s going to be a tough match,” Riley said. “So you just have to grind it out, make birdies and get up in the match.”
Riley is trying to overcome a Round-of-32 loss to Liu in last year’s U.S. Junior. Riley shot 7 under in that match.
“That gave me a lot of confidence that I can play with the best,” Riley said.
Scheffler is also trying to overcome past match-play failure. He lost in the final to Adam Wood at last year’s Polo Golf Junior Classic. Wood played well in that match, but Scheffler’s putter gave him trouble. The flat stick has been much kinder this week.
Outside of some competitive games of ping pong, Scheffler and Riley have never played a match of any kind against each other, let alone golf. They did play in the same group in the final round of the Rolex Tournament of Champions earlier this month. Scheffler shot 3-over 73 that day. Riley carded a 78.
Both players are clearly at the top of their games at the moment, though. And you can bet they are both aware.
“He’s a tough competitor,” Riley said. “We know each other really well, and we know we’re going to have a tough road ahead.”