Trio share 2014 U.S. Amateur lead at 6 under
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – One is a brash, confident 17-year-old who has made plenty of headlines as a standout junior golfer. The other is a short-game whiz who has mainly gone unnoticed while playing for one of the best mid-major colleges in the country.
That's the beauty of the U.S. Amateur – any of the 312 players start one of amateur golf's most grueling test with dreams of lifting the Havemeyer Trophy, whether they are a 13-year-old like Will Thomson (read more here) or a grizzled veteran such as John Pate.
On Monday at the Atlanta Athletic Club, where both the par-71 Highlands course and par-72 Riverside course are in play, it shocked no one to see Sam Horsfield blitz his back nine with four birdies to get into the clubhouse at 6 under. What raised eyebrows was that Jimmy Beck, a soft-spoken senior at Kennesaw State, used seven birdies and a bogey en route to the same score.
"Jimmy mainly went unrecruited because of his length," said caddie and Kennesaw State head coach Jay Moseley. "But if you get him inside 150 yards, he's as good as any pro."
PHOTOS: 2014 U.S. Amateur (Monday)
View images of the 2014 U.S. Amateur at Atlanta Athletic Club on both the Highlands Course and Riverside Course.
As for Horsfield, he was a semifinalist at the U.S. Junior Amateur earlier this summer, has shot a 61 in a qualifier for the U.S. Public Links and won the Florida State Amateur by 11 shots in 2013 as a 16-year-old. Oh, and he beat PGA Tour star Ian Poulter in a nine-hole match, leaving Poulter touting the young Englishman's talent on Twitter many times.
"There are times where guys are hitting it great, but not putting well. And then times when you aren't hitting great, but putting great," said Horsfield. "Right now, I am doing both well."
Horsfield, Beck and Taylor Moore will carry a one-shot lead into the second, and final, round of stroke-play qualifying on Tuesday, sitting just ahead of Georgia junior Lee McCoy and two in front of Jonathan Garrick and Cameron Young. There are 10 players three shots off the pace, including collegiate All-Americans Robby Shelton, Cheng-Tsung Pan and Denny McCarthy.
As a Georgia native that won its state amateur in 2013, Beck feels a sense of pride this week in honoring Bobby Jones, an icon in Georgia and integral in the history of Atlanta Athletic Club.
"He's a very honorable man in the state of Georgia. When I won the State Am, that's the first name that stuck out to me. To even be associated with his name is just something in itself," said Beck.
Beck pointed to birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 that catapulted him to his impressive round, hitting a 2-hybrid from 240 yards to about 8 feet on the par-4 second that he drained. Considering his drive only carried about 280 yards, Beck has had to rely on his irons and short game to compete.
In looking ahead, Moseley feels that Beck hitting first from the fairway could be a major advantage in match play, which begins on Wednesday.
"The area he has improved the most is from 150 to 200 yards from the fairway," said Moseley. "When he has 6-iron in his hand, it's like wedge for the others. If he is hitting first in match play, he can apply some pressure by getting it close."
Horsfield got his round going at the turn, posting birdies on Nos. 9-11 and then adding two more on 13 and 18 – the last hitting the cup with a bit of pace.
"I got lucky that it hit it, otherwise that was going 5 feet by," said Horsfield.
Moore, a junior at Arkansas, got into the clubhouse last at 6 under, using three back-nine birdies to jump into the fray.
"Just puts me in a good position going into tomorrow to make the top six before we get into Match Play and get a high seed. I wanted a higher seed this year. Shooting 66 puts me in a good spot, and I've got to go stay aggressive tomorrow, keep hitting greens and not let off the gas," said Moore.
Catching fire late was a theme Monday, as McCarthy was 4 under on his incoming nine while Shelton and Pan were 3 under. McCarthy, for one, also pointed to his aggressive nature that allowed him to climb up the leaderboard, choosing not to worry about potential mistakes that could cost him a spot in match play that will start Wednesday.
"I stay aggressive. If I hit my driver like I did today, I think I'm going to be in a really good spot. My mindset for my first couple Ams was, 'Make match play,' but this time around, I'm kind of expecting to make match play and eventually make a deep run," said McCarthy, a senior at Virginia. "Right now I'm just taking it a step at a time and just focus on a shot at a time. But I'm definitely playing well enough to shoot another good round."
Others believe that a more conservative approach will net them a spot in the field of 64, including SMU junior Bryson Dechambeau, who fired a 1-under 71 to sit in a tie for 24th after 18 holes. There were 43 players to break par in the first round.
"(You) don't want to be too aggressive; you don't want to bring doubles into play. You can't afford to do that if you are going to make the top 64. Once you get into match play, it's a grind. Day-by-day, round-by-round, shot-by-shot," said Dechambeau. "You have to stay energized, you have to eat a lot. You have to be mentally ready."