U.S. Am: Biddle leads as rain jumbles schedule
ERIN, Wis. – Not much has been resolved after the first two days of the U.S. Amateur. A 3 1/2-hour rain delay pushed back starting times Tuesday, jumbled the schedule of events and left much uncertainty. The medalists have yet to be named. The Walker Cup selection still looms large. The main course, Erin Hills, the longest course in U.S. Golf Association history, is eminently playable. But the match-play field won’t be set until midday Wednesday, and the wait, at least for some, will be excruciating.
Said Alabama sophomore Cory Whitsett, who shot 68 Tuesday and will advance to match play: “I’m just glad to be done.”
Must be nice. The final groups began their second rounds at Erin Hills around 6 p.m. CDT under darkening skies, meaning only a handful of opening-round matches actually will be completed Wednesday. The second round of stroke-play qualifying was delayed 3 hours, 40 minutes because of rain, making the 7,760-yard Erin Hills play even longer. Not necessarily because of the rain, though. The humped fairways are still firm, so the ball bounds forward and leaves mid-iron approaches into beastly 490-yard par 4s. (Hey, as Justin Thomas said earlier this week, “There is no such thing as a long course anymore.”) The main difference Tuesday was the wind. Gusts of up to 30 mph whistled through the golden fescue, and Erin Hills, wide open and unprotected and an 8.4-mile hike, played more than three strokes more difficult than Blue Mound, the other course used during stroke-play qualifying.
That’s not to say, however, that there weren’t a few good scores at Erin Hills. Blake Biddle is the deepest in the red at 8 under through 30 holes (he was unofficially 3 under through 12 holes at Blue Mound in Round 2). Ben Geyer, a St. Mary’s College junior from Arbuckle, Calif., shot 66, a competitive course record, to hold a share of the lead among players who have finished. Geyer, Beau Hossler (66) and Blayne Barber (67) are in the clubhouse at 7-under 135. Andrew Putnam, vying for one of the final three Walker Cup spots, shot a bogey-free 68.
“It was a grind out there,” said Putnam, who graduated from Pepperdine in the spring. “You didn’t have too many easy holes to look forward to all day. It played decently tough.”
Conditions likely will change Wednesday morning, with warmer weather and less wind expected. And though the match-play field won’t be finalized until midday, it’s not too early to reintroduce some of the early top seeds: Hossler, you’ll remember, is the cheery 16-year-old who qualified for this year’s U.S. Open and was medalist at the U.S. Junior. He shot 66 Tuesday at Blue Mound and said afterward that he feels “more comfortable on bigger stages like this.” Auburn’s Barber, maybe the best player never to have won a major amateur title, is on the Walker Cup bubble. A strong tournament could change that.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take,” Barber said, “but I was thinking, ‘Just go out there and try to be the medalist.’ But whatever happens, happens.”
Surely you know Peter Uihlein, the defending champion, the reigning Ben Hogan Award winner. He won’t finish Round 2 until Wednesday. Ditto for Patrick Rodgers, the incoming freshman at Stanford who already has been selected to the Walker Cup team. He’s only a few shots off the lead. Gregor Main, also playing in the afternoon wave, said he wouldn’t return for his senior year at UCLA, but a U.S. Amateur title may change those plans. A Nationwide Tour victory earlier this season didn’t change Russell Henley’s plans - he wanted to win the U.S. Amateur (which he might) and play in the Walker Cup (which he will in September). So much is still undecided.
Mighty Erin Hills will shift into a match-play course starting Wednesday, and it should be an intriguing transformation. Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, said that the course could play anywhere between 7,200 and 7,600 yards.
“It seems like there are eight tee boxes on every holes,” Putnam said. “They could mix it up and make it very interesting.”
We just need to wait a few more hours to get started.