China's Hu advances at British Am

GULLANE, Scotland – At least two people at the British Amateur Championship are hoping China’s Mu Hu builds on his fine play in stroke-play qualifying and goes on to lift the oldest amateur trophy in golf. There’s the man himself, and the Amateur Championship trophy engraver.

“Mu Hu is a trophy engraver’s dream,” R&A chief executive Peter Dawson once joked.

Dawson’s quip didn’t hold much chance of becoming reality in 2006, when Hu played in his first British Amateur. Hu’s name on the British Amateur trophy doesn’t seem too far-fetched these days.

Hu returned a 2-under-par 69 at Muirfield – he opened with a 70 at North Berwick – to breeze through to the match play stages. His 3-under 139 total was 21 shots better than his score four years ago at Royal St. George’s and Prince’s. Hu opened with an 84 at Royal St. George’s in 2006, and backed that up by shooting 76 at Prince’s.

Hu’s first experience with links golf couldn’t have been worse. It blew a gale at Royal St. George’s. Conditions were so bad that Pablo Martin, the top-ranked amateur at the time, returned a 79 at Prince’s and had to shoot 67 at Royal St. George’s to qualify for the match play stages.

“I played at Royal St. George’s four years ago and didn’t enjoy the links experience,” Hu said. “That’s why I haven’t been back. But when I saw it was being played this year at Muirfield, I thought I’d give it another try.”

Hu is a far better player than he was four years ago. He won the Dixie Amateur Championship at the end of 2006. He attended the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla., before joining the University of Florida roster. Hu only played one full season with the Gators before calling it quits after too many disagreements with head coach Buddy Alexander.

Hu, who has lived in the United States since the age of 11, is planning to try for both his European Tour and Japanese Tour cards at the end of this season. That’s if the British Amateur Championship trophy engraver doesn’t get his dream job.

Hu will face stiff competition for the title, not the least of which will come from England’s Tommy Fleetwood. The Englishman ended the two qualifying rounds with medalist honors after rounds of 70 at Muirfield and 65 at North Berwick for a 7-under 135 total.

The 19-year-old finished took the top spot with two strokes to spare over three players: reigning British Boys’ champion Tom Lewis, Ian Winstanley of England and Arizona State’s James Byrne finished at 137. Scotsman Byrne was the only player to shoot two rounds in the 60s, with scores of 68, 69.

Fleetwood’s name on the British Amateur trophy wouldn’t look amiss considering his record in this championship. He lost in the final two years ago to Dutchman Rienier Saxton. He reached the quarterfinals last year before fallin to eventual champion Matteo Manassero, 2 and 1.

Needless to say, big things are expected of the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup player, especially from the man himself.

“I’ve got pretty high expectations this week,” Fleetwood said. “I came here with the expectation of winning.”

He’ll do just that if he continues the way he’s played the last two days. Fleetwood was 3-under for both nines at North Berwick, with six birdies and no dropped shots.

No wonder Fleetwood can’t wait for the match play rounds to start.

“Muirfield suits my game,” he said. “The rough is pretty thick so it’s a must to keep the ball on the fairway. I’m a good driver of the ball so that helps me.

“You never know who you’re going to come up against, but I’ve played pretty well the first two rounds and I’m sure people will notice that.”

The cut fell at 143 with 73 players making it through to the match play stages. Among the notables hoping to better Hu and Fleetwood are University of San Diego player Alex Ching, Oklahoma State’s Trent Whitekiller, Rice’s Michael Buttacavoli, GB&I Walker Cup player Stiggy Hodgson, Augusta State’s Henrik Norlander, East Tennessee State players Rhys Enoch and Michael Stewart, and former British Boys champions Jordan Findlay and Emilio Cuartero.

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