THE WOODLANDS, Texas –– After two rounds of match play Thursday at The Club at Carlton Woods, the field is down to eight at the U.S. Junior Amateur.
Among those still standing: Sean Crocker and Sam Horsfield, the co-medalists from stroke play; Andy Zhang and Will Grimmer, who have each played in a U.S. Open; Will Zalatoris, the lone Texan left in the field; and Davis Riley, last year’s runner-up to Scottie Scheffler.
Here are 5 Things you need to know from Thursday’s action in The Woodlands, Texas:
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1. TOP SEEDS HANG ON: Tuesday, Sean Crocker and Sam Horsfield shared stroke-play medalists honors to earn the top two seeds for match play. Thursday, they both hung on to advance to the quarterfinals.
Crocker took his match with Sahith Theegala, a friend from Southern California, to 20 holes before earning the win with par at the par-4 second hole.
The Zimbabwe native led 3 up through four holes before Theegala fought back to square the match at the eighth. Crocker then was 2 up through 12 holes, but again Theegala climbed back to square the match with birdie at the par-5 18th hole.
Crocker, who lost in the Round of 64 a year ago, is trying to become the first No. 1 seed to win the U.S. Junior since Jordan Spieth did it in 2009.
“I’m pretty excited,” Crocker said. “I’ve made it further than I did last year, so I’m ready to go.”
Horsfield saw a 3-up lead on the back nine shrink to one before closing out Australian Zach Murray at the 18th hole. Murray, who won Nos. 16 and 17 to square the match, lipped out a birdie putt on the final hole.
“I thought for sure it was going in and when it lipped out, I was relieved, but my heart started pounding a little bit,” said Horsfield, who advanced to the quarterfinals last year before losing to John Augenstein.
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2. UNCHARTED TERRITORY: Will Zalatoris and Andy Zhang have now combined to play in eight U.S. Juniors – Zalatoris accounts for five of them. But neither had advanced to the quarterfinals.
That is, until Thursday.
Zalatoris and Zhang each won their Round-of-16 matches on the 18th hole, Zalatoris topping Will Dickson, 1 up, and Zhang posting a 1-up victory over Doc Redman.
“I learned how to spell patience today,” said Zalatoris, who was 3 down through five holes before winning five of his next eight holes to take his first lead of the match. He eagled the par-5 eighth hole during that stretch.
“When I won five holes in an eight-hole stretch, I could tell that he was starting to get a little impatient himself, so I made sure I stuck to my gameplan,” said the Plano, Texas, native, whose previous best match-play result at the U.S. Junior was making the Round of 16 in 2011.
Zhang’s victory came in a different fashion. The Reunion, Fla., resident from China won the opening hole and led 2 up from Nos. 8-15. But he then dropped the 16th hole with par and the 17th with bogey to enter the par-5 18th at all square.
“You can’t really calm yourself,” Zhang said. “My heart was beating so fast walking down (the 18th fairway). . . . 500 times a second. It was ridiculous.”
At the final hole, Redman found a greenside bunker in two and couldn’t get up-and-down for birdie. Zhang was just off the back of the green in two and two-putted from the fringe to win the hole with birdie.
Despite never making it past the first round of match play before, Zhang’s goal is to win this week so that he can get into the U.S. Amateur.
For the record, this week’s runner-up also gets into the field at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“Yeah, but no one wants to finish second,” Zhang said.
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3. RILEY RALLIES: Davis Riley really wants to get another shot at a U.S. Junior title.
After Thursday, he is two steps closer.
“I definitely kind of want a little revenge this year,” said last year’s runner-up from Hattiesburg, Miss. “I want to get myself back in that position and finish it a little better than I did last year.”
Riley’s road in match play, though, has been a little different this time around. Last year, Riley said, “I was up all the time and I was winning pretty big.”
But after a 5-and-4 victory over Ashwin Arasu in Thursday morning’s second round, Riley ran into a little trouble against Aaron DeNucci in the Round of 16.
DeNucci took the first hole with par and led 3 up through five holes. Riley trailed until the par-3 12th, where he made par to bring the match back to all square.
“I just told myself to gut it out and really fight hard through there,” said Riley, who then won Nos. 16 and 17 with pars to close out a 2-and-1 win, “and I did that.
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4. LOTS OF LOOPERS: Will Dickson used six different caddies this week at the U.S. Junior Amateur.
His first caddie injured his leg during a practice round. The second, a local junior player, then took over for the first round before that caddie’s dad was on Dickson’s bag for the second round.
The fourth caddie?
“I don’t even know who I had yesterday,” Dickson said.
The fifth caddie was Cameron Young, who Dickson beat in the Round of 64. Dickson’s sister, Sara Dickson, worked for Young’s dad, David Young, at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, N.Y. During lunch Wednesday, Young volunteered to carry Dickson’s bag.
“We were probably the most talented pair on the course,” Dickson said.
Young looped for Dickson in Thursday morning’s Round of 32, but then had to catch a flight.
Dickson then got his sixth and final caddie, A.J. Grammer, a local who had looped for Zecheng (Marty) Dou in the Round of 32, before falling to Will Zalatoris in the Round of 16, 1 down.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Andreas Halvorsen won the second hole and then never trailed on his way to a 4-and-3 victory over Davis Shore in the Round of 16. “I just never let him in the match,” Halvorsen said. . . . Just one match in the Round of 32 reached the 18th hole while five matches went at least 18 in the Round of 16. . . . In the Round of 32, John Augenstein, a semifinalist from the 2013 U.S. Junior, lost to Sean Crocker, 3 and 2, while Zecheng (Marty) Dou, a quarterfinalist a year ago, lost to Will Zalatoris, 3 and 2.
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Round of 32
- Sean Crocker def. John Augenstein, 3 and 2
- Sahith Theegala def. Nathan Jeansonne, 4 and 3
- Will Zalatoris def. Zecheng Dou, 3 and 2
- Will Dickson def. John Pak, 4 and 3
- Will Grimmer def. Cole Madey, 5 and 4
- Anton Serafini def. Eric Bae, 2 and 1
- Joshua McCarthy def. Dwight Cauthen, 4 and 3
- Curtis Luck def. Tanner Owens, 3 and 2
- Sam Horsfield def. Won Jun Lee, 3 and 2
- Zach Murray def. Philip Barbaree, 3 and 2
- Andreas Halvorsen def. Joshua Sedeno, 2 up
- Davis Shore def. David Snyder, 2 and 1
- Davis Riley def. Ashwin Arasu, 5 and 4
- Aaron DeNucci def. Bryce Hendrix, 2 and 1
- Doc Redman def. Braden Thornberry, 4 and 3
- Andy Zhang def. Tony Gil, 5 and 3
Round of 16
- Sean Crocker def. Sahith Theegala, 20 holes
- Will Zalatoris def. Will Dickson, 1 up
- Will Grimmer def. Anton Serafini, 2 up
- Curtis Luck def. Joshua McCarthy, 5 and 4
- Sam Horsfield def. Zach Murray, 1 up
- Andreas Halvorsen def. Davis Shore, 4 and 3
- Davis Riley def. Aaron DeNucci, 2 and 1
- Andy Zhang def. Doc Redman, 1 up