U.S. Jr.: Who's in? Who's out? Round of 32
BREMERTON, Wash. – Quick hits from the Round of 32 at the U.S. Junior Amateur:
• The genius of the drivable 18th hole at Gold Mountain was on display Thursday during the opening match between medalist Beau Hossler and Austin Smotherman. One up on the tee, Hossler used a 4-iron to play down the left side, short of the cross bunkers, on the 304-yard finishing hole. Knowing that he likely needed birdie, Smotherman debated for about a minute his club selection – driver in his left hand, 3-wood in his right. He opted for the big stick, powering his drive over the pond and into a swale just right of the green.
From 91 yards, Hossler hit a three-quarter sand wedge, spun the ball down the hill (and nearly into the cup), then rolled in his 8-footer for birdie to seal the match, 1 up. “It’s just a great match-play hole from back there,” Hossler would say later.
Nothing has come easily for Hossler, of Mission Viejo, Calif., who was surprisingly shaky on the greens Thursday, particularly late. On the 209-yard, par-3 16th, Smotherman found the water with his approach, splashed out of the hazard to 12 feet but missed the putt and took bogey. Having found the green with his tee shot, Hossler three-putted from 35 feet – including a miss from 3 feet – and headed to the 17th all square. From the 17th fairway, Hossler bladed his approach but wound up 8 feet from the cup. Again, he missed the putt. He was let off the hook, however, when Smotherman yanked a 4-footer for par.
“I was lucky to get out of that match,” Hossler said, “because I didn’t have my best stuff.”
• Looking for a potential sleeper at Gold Mountain? There’s a good chance it will be 15-year-old Connor Black, who has trailed for only one hole this week – the opening hole in his first-round match against Joshua Martin, which he turned around to win, 5 and 4. On Thursday morning, Black hung on to defeat Scottie Scheffler in 19 holes in a matchup of future standouts that drew a throng of coaches from elite college programs.
The top-ranked player in the 2014 class, Black, of Katy, Texas, already is in the midst of a breakthrough summer: Last month he won the Western Junior, and he posted top-15 finishes at the AJGA FootJoy Invitational (3rd), Laredo Energy Junior (6th) and Scott Robertson Memorial (T-15).
Of course, Black’s task will only get more difficult this afternoon – he will take on Hossler, the No. 1 overall seed and stroke-play medalist, in the most intriguing Round of 16 matchup.
• The defending champion, Jim Liu, may have been ousted, but Jordan Spieth looks more potent than ever. The ’09 U.S. Junior winner beat Wesley Gosselin, 2 and 1, to advance to the Round of 16. He will face left-hander Wilson Bateman on Thursday afternoon.
• Zach Herr – whose inspirational story was featured on Golfweek.com on Tuesday – continues to roll at the U.S. Junior. After making the stroke-play cut by one stroke, Herr steamrolled past Cody Proveaux, the top-ranked player in the 2012 class, with a 4-and-3 victory, then knocked off Aaron Kunitomo this morning to advance to the Round of 16. Herr, of New Hope, Pa., hasn’t finished better than T-18 in three AJGA starts this season.
• No repeat takedowns this year for Robby Shelton, who lost to Taylor Moore, 6 and 4, in the Round of 32. Last year, at Egypt Valley in Ada, Mich., Shelton shocked Jordan Spieth and Anthony Paolucci on his way to reaching the quarterfinals.
• After squeaking out a victory in 19 holes Wednesday, Will Starke was a bit more dominant in taking out Matt Gilchrest, 1 up, to advance to the Round of 16. Starke, the No. 2 overall seed, has given a verbal commitment to South Carolina; his hometown of Chapin, S.C., is about 25 minutes from Columbia.