Australians Watt, Goss shine at U.S. Amateur

Brady Watt with host Todd Clark during the 2013 U.S. Amateur in Brookline, Mass.

Brady Watt with host Todd Clark during the 2013 U.S. Amateur in Brookline, Mass.

— “Aussie. Aussie. Aussie.”

You could shout that all morning at The Country Club, for three mates from Down Under rolled to victories in the Round of 32 at the 113th U.S. Amateur. By early evening, however, it was more appropriate to let loose with, “Aussie, Aussie,” after victories by Brady Watt and Oliver Goss came on the heels of Nathan Holman’s loss.

All in all, it was a day to salute the Australian national golf team.

“World class,” said Goss, who beat Carr Vernon in the morning, 1 up, then Xander Schauffele in the afternoon, 3 and 1. “The support we get from Golf Australia can’t be mimicked or replicated. It’s second to none.”

• • •

U.S. Amateur: Thursday's results; Friday's quarterfinal schedule

• • •

Committed to nurturing young golf talent, the program has a headquarters in the United States, located in Houston, and its players have been competing all summer in the best amateur tournaments throughout the United States – The Players, the Southern Am, the Sunnehanna, the Porter Cup, the Western Am. This week’s U.S. Amateur is the crown jewel, of course, and two star pupils took two steps closer to a possible title.

Much to Brad James’ delight, too.

The onetime coach at the University of Minnesota, James is High Performance Director of Golf Australia and he logged plenty of mileage Wednesday following six matches – two each by Goss, Watt, and Holman. There was a sense of disappointment late in the afternoon when Holman went from taking the lead with a 15-foot par-save at the par-4 14th to go 1 up, to dropping Nos. 16 and 17 in a 1-up loss to Neil Raymond.

But the day improved exponentially when Watt – who bested Seth Reeves 3 and 2 in the morning – built a 2-up lead through nine holes and held of the University of Washington’s Charlie Hughes, 2 and 1. Minutes later, standing by the side of the 17th green, James embraced Watt, then the two of them were joined by Goss, who has marched into the quarterfinals for a second straight year.

“Doors have been opened up to them,” James said. “The program is improving and this schedule works well.”

When the USGA decided three years ago to exempt the top 50 players off the World Amateur Golf Ranking into the U.S. Amateur, the depth and overall quality of this late-summer event improved greatly. No surprise, then, that international names made up eight of the final 16 and comprise five of the final eight.

That two Aussies remain is good news for James and his program, but Goss pointed out that it’s not a perfect picture. “We had hoped to be able to meet Sunday (for the championship); it would be Saturday morning (semifinals) if we can win tomorrow.”

That’s looking too far ahead, of course, as both Watt and Goss know the trappings of this format. Both had to avoid a few pitfalls just to advance through the Round of 16.

Against Hughes, the match was all square when Watt went long with his approach into the eighth green.

“I was a bit unlucky to go that long and it was a touchy shot,” said Watt, who looked at his ball in 4-inch rough, picked out a spot on the fringe about 1 foot in front of him and hit it perfectly. The ball landed softly, took the left-to-right roll and traveled 15 feet – into the cup.

A huge boost “and I felt I was hitting it well enough to keep the momentum,” said Watt, who won the par-4 ninth and indeed kept Hughes from any sort of comeback.

Goss was down a hole through eight, won the ninth with a par, then seized the lead with a birdie at the long, uphill, par-5 12th. He won the next hole, too, then closed out his match as Schauffele drove it wide right at 17 and pulled his second shot into the woods wide left of the green.

But as happy as James was, he had plenty of company. Members of the Clark family joined in the celebration, the host family for Watt and Goss thrilled that their players had survived the rigors of this competition for another day.

James said the program could never place its players in such tournaments without the graciousness of host families and that “we stress to our kids the importance of appreciating what they have.”

Goss indicated that message has been received loud and clear.

“They have been unreal to us,” he said of Todd and Mary Joe Clark, who are members of Charles River CC, which was used as the other qualifying site. “They make us great meals, take us out to dinner, they’re giving us gifts, it’s been unreal.”

Holman, who is staying with the Fulton Family, many of whom are members of The Country Club and were on hand to cheer him on, said, “none of us would be able to do what we are doing without private housing.”

Todd Clark drew a bit of a break in the afternoon Round of 16 when Watt played in Match 5, Goss in Match 7, thus could he bounce back and forth and keep tabs on both of his houseguests. The week, he confirmed, had been an enjoyable one, with visits to the best in area dining. “The North End, Legal Seafoods, Capital Grill, and every morning Mary Joe has made them blueberry pancakes and bacon,” he said, and come Friday night, a game at Fenway Park between the Yankees and Red Sox is on deck.

Noting that he went to a Yankees game in New York this year, Watt he knows which team he needs to root for Friday, given the locale. “I’m thoroughly enjoying the States,” said Watt. “It’s going to be tough to leave.”

Goss doesn’t disagree about the time in the States, but his situation is a bit different. Unlike Holman, 22, who concluded his amateur career with this tournament, and Watt, 22, who is in the program but not interested in college golf, Goss, 19, is a sophomore-to-be at the University of Tennessee and between spring golf, then summer tournaments here, and the upcoming school season, he’ll be away from home for as much as seven months.

“I miss it and look forward to when I can get home,” Goss said.

But, of course, there’s a more immediate concern – Friday morning’s quarterfinal date with Temple’s Brandon Matthews, who beat Gavin Green in the morning and Charlie Danielson in the afternoon.

Watt, meanwhile, will face the Comeback Kid of this tournament, Scottie Scheffler, whose Thursday wins were over Brandon Hagy and Matthias Schwab.

And if they successfully navigate those matches? Goss smiled and said facing Watt, “my good mate,” would be a chance to add another memorable match to their history. It includes a playoff they went into to decide who was medalist at the Australian State Amateur last year (Goss rolled in a 35-foot putt to win) and their head-to-head battle in the State Open. In that one, they each finished birdie-birdie to go into a playoff which produced four straight holes of two birdies each. Finally, on the fifth extra hole, Goss won with a par.

“But he always seems to get the better of me in stroke play,” Goss said with a smile, and you could almost hear the cheers ringing down.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.

They’re on center stage at The Country Club.

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