Echavarria fights effects of Karsten at sectionals

Andres Echavarria

Andres Echavarria

VERO BEACH, Fla. – Karsten Creek Golf Club did a number on Andres Echavarria. Nevermind that the redshirt senior won the Gator Invitational. Nevermind that he won the SEC Championship. In his final tournament as a Gator, Echavarria closed with 11-over 83 in Stillwater as the Gators bowed out before match play began.

A week later, it felt good to be back in the red numbers.

Echavarria finished regulation at 3-under 141 (68-73) at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Quail Valley Golf Club. He lost a three-for-two playoff with a double bogey on the first hole of sudden death, but still takes a positive away from the experience.

“I was playing really well about two weeks ago but Karsten Creek just devoured my confidence,” Echavarria explained after a long day on the course.

With Florida sophomore Isabelle Lendl on the bag – Lendl lives a short jaunt from Quail Valley and provided some local knowledge – Echavarria cruised through the opening 18. As the wind picked up, he struggled not to let his score climb.

“What I think made it tough was the greens were just flying,” he said. “If you did not hit a perfect putt or a perfect chip you were not going to hit it within five feet. It’s obviously easy to make five footers because the greens were so fast and everything just kind of rolled on line, but I’ve never played on greens this fast in my life.”

Echavarria had never made it to U.S. Open sectionals before, and the experience was made sweeter because former Gator Gary Koch was there to greet him at the start of play. Koch, 58, was paired with Echavarria, and they were part of the very first group off No. 10 tee at 7:15 a.m.

“Gary Koch was a great experience,” Echavarria said. “I only met him one time at the U.S. Am. He was broadcasting, he’s a really cool guy, I enjoyed it a lot.”

Koch was happy to find a fellow alum in his pairing as well. Despite winning his local qualifier to make it to sectionals, Koch struggled on the greens as the day wore on, and finished five shots out of the playoff. Afterward he sung the praises of Echavarria’s game.

“He’s more than just a power player, or at least my assessment of watching him today,” he said. “He’s got some finesse shots and he’s good around the greens.”

After barely missing the Open, Echavarria isn’t quite sure when he will turn professional, but knows it will be soon. As for Koch, who won’t up his U.S. Open count to 18 this year, it’s back to the grind of commentating for NBC. Thanks to a busy week at the Players Championship and bad weather at the Senior PGA Championship, Koch missed out on some valuable practice time. He still walked away from Quail Valley in good spirits.

“My preparation was probably a little lacking but the reality is a 58-year-old guy is not supposed to beat these kids.”

• • •

Bigger things to come: While a playoff for the final two spots into the U.S. Open raged on No. 18, Auburn sophomore Blayne Barber and Jimmy Lytle quietly teed off at No. 10 to play off for the second alternate spot after finishing at 2-under 142.

Much less exciting, but Barber was happy with the finish nonetheless.

“I played really well all day, it was obviously tough out there, the greens were extremely fast and firm,” said Barber, who won the spot.

The Lake City, Fla., native knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in after spending last year redshirting at Auburn after transferring from UCF. He’s happy to be back on the roster and traveling with the team, even though he did fill his first year at Auburn with more than enough amateur tournaments to keep him busy.

“I was definitely hungry to get back and play with the guys,” he said.

The next team Barber is focused on is the Walker Cup. Earning a spot is something that’s been on his mind for two years, and he’s built his schedule to include a summer full of amateur events (Northeast, Players, Southern, Western and the U.S. Amateur, to name a few), in the hope that he’ll get a nod to make the trip to Royal Aberdeen in September.

“It’s obviously in the back of your mind. That’s been the goal for the last two years so it’s exciting that this summer is finally here,” he said. “Just going to go, just have to play golf and let the scores dictate that.”

• • •

The next generation: Sawyer Shaw, 15, can’t put a finger on why it’s been such a good spring on the junior circuit, but there’s no denying he’s at the top of his game. Quail Valley provided the ultimate test for Shaw, playing in his first U.S. Open sectional, and he delivered early waves.

Shaw opened with a 2-under 70, but fell to 2-over 74 on the second 18. He shrugged it off upon finishing the marathon day of golf and admitted he could have played even better.

“I feel like I have some stuff to work on,” said Shaw, who hails from nearby West Palm Beach, Fla.

Shaw has won two Florida Junior Tour events this spring as well as the AJGA’s Under Armour/Vicky Hurst Championship. He marveled at the skill it took to compete with players at sectionals.

“It was fun, it shows how much I need to improve,” Shaw noted upon learning that his 70 put him in a tie for 10th.

This U.S. Open qualifying thing suits the low-key teenager, so much so that he thinks he’ll try it again. He only entered local qualifying because it was at his home course, Bear Lakes Country Club.

“It was a great experience.”

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