– Alberto Sanchez should have been really upset
after making the climb from the 16th green to the 17th tee at Soldier Hollow
Golf Course. After being 2 up in Friday morning's quarterfinal match against T.J. Vogel
in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, he had just lost the 16th and
the match was all square.
But instead of fuming in a corner of the teeing ground, Sanchez marched up to Vogel and asked him about his
distance to the hole for his second shot on the previous hole, a 589-yard par
answered Vogel, who had hit a 360-yard drive on the hole.
Impressed, Sanchez offered his
fist for a bump in response.
The pair, who know each other well from playing together on
the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) circuit, then proceeded to talk
about a variety of topics: the slow pace of play of the match in front of them
– they had to wait more than five minutes on the tee – the status of other
matches, the possibility of playing against last year’s runner-up Derek Ernst
in the semifinal, and the difficulty of their half of the bracket.
Although the match was a serious endeavor on the road to a
national championship, their camaraderie gave the round the atmosphere of a friendly
match between regular golf buddies.
“[T.J.] is a great
friend, great guy and great player,” said Sanchez,
18, of Nogales, Ariz. “We played two summers straight [in
AJGA events] where we were on the road for nine weeks straight. We did a bunch
of things together.”
Once the green cleared, Vogel hit the green of the 233-yard
17th hole with a 7-iron, then Sanchez came up short.
Sanchez failed to get up and down, and the first
bogey of the round by either player placed him 1 down.
On the final hole, which played 302 yards, Vogel hit a
wedge from 88 yards
to within a couple of feet for a conceded birdie. After Sanchez
missed a difficult eagle pitch that would have extended the match, they hugged near
the 18th green.
“It was a lot of fun, more than playing with someone you
don’t know,” said Vogel, 21, who faces Derek Ernst
in the semifinals. “It is tough to see defeat on your friend. He’s a lot
younger than me, but he’s been a great player for a long time. He’s been
In fact, Sanchez qualified for
the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, where he missed the cut by just one stroke
after playing a practice round with Phil Mickelson,
who went to Arizona
State, where Sanchez is headed in the fall as a freshman.
“He’s a really nice guy,” said Sanchez.
“He’s really nice when it comes to showing you how to hit shots and how to play
the course. Same with Bones [Jim
Mackay], his caddie. So I’m really
excited to play for his brother [Tim]
at Arizona State in the fall.”
Playing against the best players in the world gave Sanchez plenty of confidence in his second USGA championship
of the year.
“It’s been a good week,” said Sanchez,
who is exempt into the U.S. Amateur after qualifying for the U.S. Open. “After
shooting five over in the first round, then making it to match play and making
it this far, I’m pleased.”
For Sanchez, the week was even
better for having had his father, Alberto Sr.,
on his bag.
“He knows my game really well,” said Sanchez.
“He keeps me loose, making sure I’m drinking a lot of water. He gives me the
confidence to pull the trigger.”
On the 16th tee, as Sanchez
pulled a driver out of his bag, his father, who speaks to his son in both English
and Spanish, simply said: “Confianza.”
It didn’t work out for Sanchez
over the closing holes, but he is looking forward to testing himself at the
next USGA championship, the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club outside Denver.
“I made it to the quarters and I know what it’s going to
feel like in Colorado,”
said Sanchez. “It’s going to be just as tough or
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the
USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org