The growth of Theo Humphrey on display at U.S. Amateur

USGA

The growth of Theo Humphrey on display at U.S. Amateur

Amateur

The growth of Theo Humphrey on display at U.S. Amateur

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Theo Humphrey has always been a combustible player. As a freshman, he had the tendency to run hot when the birdies weren’t falling. But now days, it’s Humphrey’s game that is catching fire.

Humphrey, a rising senior at Vanderbilt, advanced to the quarterfinals of the 117th U.S. Amateur with two match-play victories Thursday at Riviera Country Club. Humphrey beat Kyle Mueller, 3 and 1, in the Round of 32 before taking down Noah Norton, 4 and 3, in the Round of 16.

“I feel like all parts of my game are in solid form to where I can keep it going the next couple matches,” Humphrey said.

His mind is in a good place, too. Though it wasn’t always that way.

When Humphrey arrived in Nashville, Tenn., as a freshman, he lacked confidence and discipline with his golf game. That led to poor play, which led to Humphrey’s emotions boiling over on the course. Luckily, Humphrey was willing to learn and had a bevy of great resources to help him improve as a player.

Hunter Stewart, a senior and first-team All-American during Humphrey’s freshman season, gave Humphrey confidence. Matthias Schwab, who played three seasons with Humphrey and is now on the European Challenge Tour, taught Humphrey to pay attention to the little things. The players around him – Schwab, Partick Martin, Will Gordon, John Augenstein – pushed Humphrey.

“Being around them and playing with them all the time, seeing what they do well, how they approach the game, stuff like has helped me become a much better player,” Humphrey said. “I’m thankful for being around guys like that. I think that’s why I am where I am now.

“I felt like going into college I had a decent amount of talent. I felt like the potential was there, but the results really weren’t because a lot of inconsistencies, kind of some poor decision-making, stuff like that.”

This past spring, it all clicked for Humphrey. He posted four top-5 finishes for the Commodores to finish the season with a team-high five. He had a stellar postseason, finishing 12th at the SEC Championship, 16th at the NCAA College Grove Regional and T-3 at the NCAA Championship. And he also evolved into a match-play maven, going 4-1 in the format between SECs and the NCAAs.

This summer, the nice play has continued for Humphrey. His finishes have included a T-13 at Sunnehanna, T-2 at Northeast and T-3 at Players Amateur. He’s risen to 42nd in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and eighth in the Scratch Players Ranking.

“I think the biggest thing is confidence in my game, in what I’m doing,” Humphrey said. “I feel like the last few months I’ve stepped up on the golf course and expected to do well. I think in the past I had hoped to.”

Humphrey’s head coach at Vanderbilt, Scott Limbaugh, has noticed the growth of his player. Limbaugh watched Humphrey’s Round-of-16 match on television and pointed to a moment Thursday afternoon at Riviera’s 10th hole. Norton had hit his drive up around the green, and instead of trying to be aggressive and go for the green, Humphrey stuck to his gameplan and hit iron, just as he had done all week.

“In the past, that would’ve been a deal where Theo’s going to grab his 3-wood,” Limbaugh said.

“I love to see the growth he’s had,” Limbaugh added. “Everybody used to just think he was kind of a wilder player, and he’s just not anymore. He’s a guy who understands who he is as a player; he’s still an emotional player but he’s learned to make all of that work for him.”

Humphrey led 3 up through six holes against Norton, but never panicked when twice his lead dwindled to just 1 up. He wouldn’t be denied, winning Nos. 12, 14 and 15 to close out the match. That’s the new Theo Humphrey. A controlled kind of fiery with a ton of confidence – and the same sweet short game he’s had for years.

“That guy can do things around a green that there ain’t 20 people in the world can do,” Limbaugh said. “I’ve never seen anybody who can hit some of short-game shots he hits, has the hands he has; it’s unbelievable.”

Humphrey won both of his matches Thursday while wearing the same navy RLX polo with a Winged Foot logo on the chest. On the back of the shirt, though, was a crest with the words “England” in it.

“Not sure why that’s there,” said Humphrey, who is from Greenwich, Conn.

Next month, though, Humphrey hopes to be wearing apparel with “United State” on it. He’s heard the chatter about how he’s joined the Walker Cup conversation and he would very much like to represent his country, something he’s never done.

But the seasoned player that he now is knows that he can’t afford to look to far ahead. It would likely take a win this week at Riviera for him to make the team, so he’s focused on doing just that.

“It’s something that has been on my mind a little bit,” Humphrey said. “People have kind of been telling me, ‘Oh, you’re on the fringe, on the outside looking in.’ … I kind of came into this week not trying to focus on that because it is a bit of a longshot.

“Obviously, if you play great this week that changes everything. But my focus was on the U.S. Am, not trying to make the Walker Cup.”

Should he make the team, though, the U.S. can expect the new Theo Humphrey to show up at Los Angeles Country Club.

Combustible, but the right kind of combustible.

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