U.S. Amateur preview: Battle at the Bay

(Left to right) Peter Uihlein, David Chung, Byeong-Hun An, Russell Henley and Scott Langley


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When: Aug. 23-29

Where: Chambers Bay Golf Club, University Place, Wash.; par 71, 7,742 yards; opened in 2007; architect Robert Trent Jones II

MORE FROM THE 110TH U.S. AMATEUR

Second stroke-play course: The Home Course, Dupont, Wash.; par 72, 7,317 yards

Defending champion: Byeong-Hun An, Korea (became youngest champion at 17 years, 11 months, 13 days)

Of note: This will be the first championship for Chambers Bay, which also will host the 2015 U.S. Open.

On TV (All times EDT): Aug. 25 (Wednesday), First round, Golf Channel, 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Aug. 26 (Thursday), 2nd and 3rd rounds, Golf Channel, 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Aug. 27 (Friday), Quarterfinals, Golf Channel, 1-3 p.m.; Aug. 28 (Saturday), Semifinals, NBC, 4-6 p.m.; Aug. 29 (Sunday), 36-hole championship final, NBC, 4-6 p.m.

What the rankings say: Sixteen of the top 35 players, including six of the top 10, in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com Player Rankings are in field, as are 13 of the top 25 from the final 2009-10 Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

The scoop: Because of the lure of professional golf, it’s become rare for a U.S. Amateur champion to return to defend his title. But that won’t be the case this year, as Byeong-Hun An, who will be a freshman at California this fall, attempts to become the first repeat winner since Tiger Woods captured three in a row (1994-96). The big question: Will an American win the title? Five of the last seven champions have been foreign-born, with only Colt Knost (2007) and Ryan Moore (2004) breaking that trend.

Could a mid-am win? This year’s starting field of 312 has plenty of talented mid-amateurs. But it’s a long, grueling week, which is one of the reasons the last mid-am to capture the title was John Harris, in 1993. Still, a mid-am could break through, and if one does, he may come from a list that includes Nathan Smith, a two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champ and 2009 U.S. Walker Cup member; Tim Jackson, also a two-time U.S. Mid-Am winner and low amateur at the U.S. Senior Open the past two years; or Kevin Marsh, a former U.S. Mid-Am winner. Others to keep an eye on: Bowen Sargent, men’s golf coach at Virginia; Mike McCoy; Jeff Wilson; Todd White; Sean Knapp; Michael Muehr; Harry Rudolph; Robert Gerwin II; Skip Berkmeyer; Tim Hogarth; and Randy Haag.

Young guns plentiful: Even with the mid-am talent, it’s difficult to go against the game’s youth movement, as the bulk of the field is filled with college and junior players. In addition to An, keep an eye on reigning British Amateur champion Jin Jeong, 2010 NCAA champ Scott Langley, reigning USGA champions Lion Kim (Amateur Public Links) and Jim Liu (Junior Amateur) and 2009 Walker Cup competitors Bud Cauley, Morgan Hoffmann and Sahalee Players champion Peter Uihlein from the U.S., and Stiggy Hodgson and Chris Paisley from Great Britain & Ireland.

A local favorite will be Canadian Nick Taylor, who just completed his college career at the University of Washington. He was low amateur at the 2009 U.S. Open, and this year’s recipient of the Ben Hogan Award as the outstanding college/amateur player.

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David Chung

Golfweek’s 2009-10 college player of the year Russell Henley, of Georgia, who qualified for this year’s U.S. Open, is certainly one to watch, as is Oregon’s Eugene Wong, winner of the Golf Coaches Association of America’s Jack Nicklaus Award as the top college player.

You also have Stanford’s David Chung, who is fresh off back-to-back victories at the Porter Cup and Western Amateur; recently-graduated teammate Joseph Bramlett, who won the Northeast Amateur and played in this year’s U.S. Open; Kevin Tway, of Oklahoma State, who won the Players Amateur; and Patrick Reed, who led Augusta State to the NCAA team title in June and was a U.S. Amateur semifinalist in 2008.

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After defeating Justin Thomas, 4 and 2, at Egypt Valley in Ada, Mich., Jim Liu, 14, surpassed Tiger Woods as the youngest winner of the U.S. Junior Amateur.

Youth movement: In addition to Liu, 14, the field includes this year’s U.S. Junior runner-up Justin Thomas and 2009 champion Jordan Spieth. Then there’s Gavin Hall, who shot 62 in the stroke-play portion and advanced to the quarterfinals at this year’s U.S. Junior before finishing in the top 5 at Porter Cup, and Bobby Wyatt, who shot 57 en route to victory in the Alabama State Boys’ Championship.

Who’s going to win: Picking a winner might just be the biggest crap shoot in all of golf. There is always one or two players who seem to come out of nowhere to either win or advance to the quarterfinals. Usually about half the field is just happy to be there, while the other half can make a solid run at the title.

Henley would certainly have to be considered one of the favorites, along with 2009 quarterfinalists Uihlein, Steve Ziegler and semifinalist Bavik Patel. Chung is currently the hottest player going, and Reed has a history of success in match-play competition.

On our radar: Keep an eye on the Bryan brothers, George IV and Wesley, former U.S. Junior champs Sihwan Kim (’04), Tway (’05), Cameron Peck (’08), Darren Wallace, Blayne Barber, Hunter Hamrick and Harris English, who was a quarterfinalist at this year’s APL.

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No. 15 at Chambers Bay

Short shots: Chambers Bay will be the longest course in USGA history. At 7,742 yards, it surpasses the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Club in San Diego, which measured 7,643 yards for the 2008 U.S. Open. The previous longest U.S. Amateur course was Hazeltine National Golf Club, at 7,473 yards in 2006. ... Chambers Bay’s fairways will range in width from approximately 28 to 105 yards. While most USGA championship courses have a buffer between fairways and primary rough, Chambers Bay likely will not due to the nature of the course’s fine fescue. The primary rough will be cut at a height of 3 to 4 1/2 inches, with fescue areas in dunes grown from 6 to 18 inches. ... The greens are expected to measure around 11 on the Stimpmeter throughout the championship. ... Based on the setup, the course rating for Chambers Bay will be 78.6, with a slope of 138, while the Home Course will be set for a 76.3 rating and slope of 131. ... There were 6,485 entries for this year’s U.S. Amateur, which is open to amateur golfers who hold a USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 2.4. The record number of entries for this championship is 7,920, when it was held at Pebble Beach Golf Links in 1999.

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