Public Links round of 32 features extended drama

Rico Hoey during the 2014 U.S. Amateur Public Links in Newton, Kan.

NEWTON, Kan. – Survive and advance. The formula made famous by the late Jim Valvano en route to the 1983 NCAA men’s basketball title is apropos for the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur Public Links, too.

In the round of 32, Rico Hoey of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. and Cody McManus of Phoenix, each needed 20 holes to survive and advance to the Sweet 16 at Sand Creek Station Golf Course.

“Man, that was a grind, and I was only watching,” said Bill McManus, Cody’s father.

McManus, a 20-year-old redshirt sophomore at Pepperdine, led 2 up through 13, but opponent Joshua Lee of Fleming Island, Fla., wouldn’t go down without a fight. The last man to make match play, Lee already had rallied from a back-nine deficit to defeat the No. 1 overall seed the day before. Lee took charge when McManus hit left and doubled 14, and then Lee birdied 16 and 17 to go 1 up. But he sprayed his tee shot out of bounds at 18 and made double bogey. On the 20th hole of their match, the par-5 second, McManus ripped an adrenaline-fueled drive and had 250 yards to get home in two. He hadn’t tried for the green all week, but he thought he could hit a high cut with his 3-wood over the tree guarding the right side of the green. Explaining his approach to the shot later, he said, “Screw it. Let’s go for it.”

McManus’ shot followed orders and landed on the green, braking within 30 feet of the hole. Lee was about 10 yards closer off the tee and with a helping breeze switched from 3-wood to 2-iron. He came up short and lobbed a pitch that just trickled onto the front fringe, 20 feet below the hole. McManus lagged his downhill putt to 2 feet. Lee had chipped in on the third extra hole of an 11-for-7 playoff to earn the 64th seed in match play. Struggling with his putting line, Lee opted to chip this time, too, but it wasn’t to be, and he conceded the match.

In other matches, defending champion Jordan Niebrugge of Mequon, Wis., birdied five of seven holes on the back nine to bounce 15-year-old Easton Paxton of Riverton, Wyo., 4 and 2.

“I couldn’t survive the storm of putts he made on the last few holes,” Paxton said.

Paxton drove the green at the 296-yard, par-4 ninth hole and birdied it to go 1 up at the turn. But he said he made a mental mistake at the 10th when his tee shot leaked right and into a hazard. Niebrugge, an Oklahoma State junior, made birdie to square the match. At 12, Niebrugge canned a 40-footer for birdie and Paxton missed from 15 feet.

“The tables kind of turned right there,” Paxton said.

Niebrugge couldn’t miss, holing another 40-foot putt for birdie at 14 and a 15-footer at 15.

“Those putts were kind of a dagger,” he said.

Paxton showed his toughness in more ways than one. A year ago to the day, his mother died after a long battle with brain cancer. Inscribed on his golf glove in green marker were the letters “PFK,” which stood for “Play for Kara.”

“She was on my mind a few times,” he said.

• • •

MID-AMS MOVE ON: All three mid-amateurs (age 25 or older) advanced to the round of 16: Garrett Rank, 26, of Elmira, Ontario, 5 and 4 over Ben Hogenkamp of Minster, Ohio; Jon Veneziano, 43, of Mount Dora, Fla., 1 up over Cash Wilkerson of Spring, Texas; and Jess Bonneau, 43, of Houston, 2 and 1 over Ryan Tetrault of Orange, Calif.

Rank holed out a sand wedge from 104 yards for an eagle three at No. 10. “Air-dunked it,” he said. “I’ve never done that before.” The Canadian, who lost in the first round of match play on the 19th hole a year ago, made sure that didn’t happen again by carding six threes in a seven-hole stretch on Nos. 8-14.

• • •

BYRON & BRYSON ROLL ON: San Diego’s Byron Meth, the No. 3 seed, played bogeyfree and made four birdies and an eagle in a 2-and-1 victory over Eric Kline of Ponca City, Okla. … Bryson Dechambeau of Clovis, Calif., didn’t let a missed short putt at No. 3 slow him down in taking out 17-year-old Sam Horsfield, an English native who lives in Davenport, Fla., 3 and 2. … Gavin Green, of Kuala Lumper, rallied from 1 down after to seven holes to notch a comfortable 4-and-3 win over Sam Saunders of Albuquerque, N.M. Both are seniors at New Mexico.

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