Riley tops Horsfield, reaches 2nd U.S. Junior final
THE WOODLANDS, Texas –– Most golfers his age would’ve crumbled.
But not Davis Riley.
The 17-year-old from Hattiesburg, Miss., missed two match-winning putts from inside 5 feet late in his semifinal match Friday against Sam Horsfield at the U.S. Junior Amateur. He then regrouped and drained another short putt for par at the 21st hole to advance to his second straight U.S. Junior final.
“It was crazy,” said Riley, who will now face Will Zalatoris in Saturday’s 36-hole final at The Club at Carlton Woods. “I just told myself to get that out of your head and keep playing.”
Riley looked to have won the match at the par-5 18th hole after Horsfield left a chip from behind the green short and in the rough, and then missed his par save. But Riley, who was short and right of the green in two shots, three-putted from 40-plus feet for bogey, his par putt from 3 feet missing right of the hole.
“I was in shock,” Horsfield said. “I had my hat off, saying some nice words to myself about my performance on 18.”
Horsfield had a good look at birdie from about 10 feet at the first playoff hole, the par-4 first, but left it short and right. Riley got up and down from the sand to extend the match.
Then at the par-4 second, Riley had his second look at closing out the match. He took a big advantage off the tee, pounding a drive well past Horsfield’s 3-wood – the Davenport, Fla., native hit just one driver after losing confidence in the club early in match play.
“I was playing a good bit ahead of him all day,” Riley said. “He told me before we played, ‘I’m not going to hardly hit any drivers today.’ ”
But while Horsfield short-sided himself in the bunker and made bogey, Riley three-putted from about 15 feet, missing a 4-footer for par, for another disappointing halve.
“I had another opportunity to finish the match and I didn’t take care of that, and it really kind of got to me after,” Riley said. “But walking over to the next tee I just told myself to shake it off and don’t let your anger lose you the match.”
At the par-3 third hole, Riley cast his misfortunes aside and delivered. He calmly landed his tee ball close to pin-high and about 20 feet away. Horsfield followed with what he called “the worst 7-iron I’ve ever hit in my life,” ending up left and on the back fringe.
After struggling with his speed on the greens for most of the match, Horsfield three-putted from the fringe while Riley two-putted for par to finally put away his competitor.
Now, Riley has a chance to become just the third player in history to win the U.S. Junior after losing in the final the previous year. Mason Rudolph was runner-up in 1949 before winning in 1950, and Tim Straub took home the 1983 title after losing the final in 1982.
His victory Friday afternoon also got him into next month’s U.S. Amateur.
“That was another one of the goals I had in mind was to get to the finals to get into the U.S. Amateur,” said Riley, who missed by four shots in his qualifier in Madison, Miss. “I just didn’t want to let it get in the way, but that was definitely a thought still in my head. But I’m really excited to be going to Atlanta.”
First, though, the Alabama commit wants to take care of business in The Woodlands, which is something he failed to do last year at Martis Camp Club in Truckee, Calif.
A year ago, Riley led for the first 22 holes against Scottie Scheffler and didn’t trail until the 32nd hole. Unfortunately for Riley, Scheffler won the final four holes to win, 3 and 2.
“It was tough to get over, but there’s always another day and another tournament,” Riley said.
And sometimes, like we saw on Friday, there’s always another chance at victory.