Kim, Erkenbeck star in Public Links quarterfinals

New Mexico's James Erkenbeck

LORTON, Va. – Michael Kim and James Erkenbeck, a pair of first-team All-Americans last season, won their quarterfinal matches Friday morning in the 88th U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Laurel Hill Golf Club.

They lead the way among the four players who advanced to Friday afternoon’s semifinals, which also will feature Jordan Niebrugge and Eric Sugimoto.

Kim, a junior at California, edged Robby Shelton IV, 1 up, while Erkenbeck, who just graduated from New Mexico, defeated Austin Smotherman by the same 1-up margin.

Niebrugge, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, also had a 1-up victory, beating 16-year-old Zecheng Dou of China, while Sugimoto, a junior at Pacific, downed Valparaiso senior Kyle Henning, 2 and 1.

Kim, one of five players named Wednesday to this year’s U.S. Walker Cup team, went on top early and was 2 up after five holes. Shelton, bound for Alabama this fall, won Nos. 7 and 8 to square the match.

Kim went back to 2 up with birdies at Nos. 9 and 13, but Shelton came back again and made it all square by winning 14 and 15.

A birdie at the par-3 16th put Kim 1 up and the two halved 17 with pars and 18 with birdies.

“Overall I played well, but I did give it away on a few holes,” said Kim, winner of the Jack Nicklaus and Haskins awards as college golf’s player of the year last season. “It was a pretty tough match and I really had to grind out the win. But I’m happy to be moving on.”

Erkenbeck, at 23 the oldest player among the eight quarterfinalists, never trailed, grabbing a 2-up lead after five holes. A birdie at the seventh put him 3 up. But Smotherman, a sophomore at SMU, battled back and won the ninth with a birdie and the 15th with a par to get to 1 down with three holes to play. The two halved the final three holes.

“I hit the ball really well, especially the first 12 holes,” said Erkenbeck, who was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and a member of this year’s U.S. Palmer Cup team. “I lost the ninth when I three-putted and things got a bit tighter after that.

“It was pretty hot out there again,” said Erkenbeck, playing in his fourth APL where he previously lost matches to PGA Tour winners Ricky Fowler (2009) and Harris English (2011). “You just have to try to conserve as much energy as you can, which was definitely the case in the afternoon.”

For the first time in his four matches, Niebrugge, an honorable mention All-American last season, was forced to play the final two holes.

The 2011 Wisconsin State Open champion and winner of the 2013 Wisconsin Match Play Championship, appeared on his way to another big win, taking a 3-up lead after five holes.

But Dou, who finished 33rd this year at the Volvo China Open, charged back and won Nos. 9 and 10 with birdies. Niebrugge went back to 2 up with a birdie at 11, but a par at 16 by Dou cut the margin to one.

Both made par at the 17th and the two birdied 18 to end the match.

Sugimoto, who tied the APL18-hole stroke-play record earlier in the week with a first-round 7-under 63, lost the first hole, but won Nos. 3 and 5 with par to go 1 up. Henning won the sixth to square things.

It looked as though Sugimoto, who won the Big West Conference Championship, was going to turn things into a route when he won Nos. 7, 9, 11 and 12 to go 4 up.

But Henning won Nos. 15 and 16 with birdies to make things interesting before the two halved the 17th to end the match.

In Friday afternoon’s semifinals, Erkenbeck battled Niebrugge while Kim took on Sugimoto. Those two winners move on to Saturday’s 36-hole final with the eventual champion earning the expected invitation to compete in the 2014 Masters.

• • •

QUARTERFINALS

  • James Erkenbeck def. Austin Smotherman, 1 up
  • Jordan Niebrugge def. Zecheng Dou, 1 up
  • Michael Kim def. Robby Shelton IV, 1 up
  • Eric Sugimoto def. Kyle Henning, 2 and 1
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