Stratham, N.H. – Nick Hardy and Nick Jan have something in common beyond their first names. Both were competing on Wednesday in first-round match play at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Golf Club of New England.
But that’s not it.
Both hail from Northbrook, Ill. and belong to the Merit Club in Libertyville, Ill.
It’s not that, either.
It’s safe to say that Hardy and Jan have played more rounds of golf together than any duo in this championship, with the exception of Branson Davis and Vincent Whaley.
Hardy and Jan are teammates at Glenbrook North High School, while Davis and Whaley both attend McKinney Boyd High School in McKinney, Texas. All four are attempting to capture the most prestigious championship in junior golf. And they all qualified for match play.
How cool is that?
“It’s really cool,” said Hardy, 16, who will be entering his junior year. “Nick and I have been great friends since eighth grade.”
Think the Glenbrook North and McKinney Boyd teams will have just a little intimidation factor on their sides when they tee it up next season?
“I can’t wait for the high school season. We should have a great team,” Hardy said.
“I think we’re going to be hard to beat this year,” Jan said. “Teams are definitely going to be scared of the Nicks.”
Hardy’s U.S. Junior Amateur ended on Wednesday with a 4-and-3 loss to Connor Black of Houston. Black played flawless golf, rarely spotting Hardy an opening. He went 2 up when Hardy bogeyed the ninth hole, and 3 up when Hardy lipped out a short par putt at No. 13.
“He was solid all day and I just beat myself. I didn’t have anything with the long game,” Hardy said. “But this is the biggest championship I’ve ever played in. It’s going to make me a better player.”
A third member of the Glenbrook North golf team, senior Zach Hamer, caddied for Hardy in the championship. After Hardy lost his match, they headed back onto the course to follow Jan.
Hardy qualified in Illinois, earning the final spot on the first hole of a playoff when he stiffed his approach to 18 inches. Jan got into the championship two days later at a Michigan qualifier. Text messages and tweets heated up cyber space across the Northbrook area.
“There was so much excitement from everyone back home once we found out that Nick [Jan] was in,” Hamer said. “We were so excited to find out we were going to have a friend and teammate here.”
Unfortunately, Jan was also ousted on Wednesday, losing 4 and 2to Andy Hyeon Bo Shim of Duluth, Ga. A double bogey at the sixth was the second of four straight lost holes that dug too deep a hole.
But for Jan, golf is only part of his story. He has worked as a volunteer the past two years with the Special Olympics, teaching physically and mentally challenged people to ice skate. He’s also a member of his high school debate team.
“Being involved in Special Olympics definitely brings everything in perspective and shows that golf is just a game you should have fun with,” Jan said.
Davis and Whaley experienced a more enjoyable day, both winning their matches to keep alive an unlikely dream. Whaley, 17, posted a 2-and-1 triumph over Tom Swanson of Missoula, Mont. in a roller-coaster match. He won three of the opening four holes and went 4 up with birdie on the eighth. But Swanson roared back, winning three straight holes beginning at the 11th with two birdies and a par. After Swanson bogeyed the par-3 14th, Whaley was able to hold him off.
“I was getting pretty nervous,” Whaley said. “I had a big lead and he was making a comeback. But I hit a good shot on 14, won that hole and got back to 2 up.”
Davis, 17, recorded a 4-and-3win over JooHo Lee of Canada. He was 1 down after two holes before winning the fourth, fifth, sixth (with birdie), ninth and 10th (birdie) holes to take a commanding 5-up advantage. This is his second appearance at the U.S. Junior Amateur; he lost in the first round of match play in 2010.
Whaley and Davis both had high expectations heading into this week, but they also had to pinch themselves that they were each in the championship.
“Honestly, he’s my best friend,” Davis said. “It’s incredible we’re both here.”
They met at age 7 and live minutes apart. They play out of Stonebridge Ranch Country Club in McKinney. Their parents are close friends. Both families are here this week, staying at the same hotel, sharing nightly dinners and dutifully providing scoring updates.
“My mom’s been telling me how Branson is doing,” Whaley said. “You see him playing good and you get motivated. I want to go just as far as he does. There’s a little competition there.”
As long as both keep winning, they will be toting their own golf bags. That’s because each had planned on caddieing for the other if one qualified for the championship. “But we haven’t lost, so we’re still carrying our own bags,” Davis said.
Davis and Whaley are in opposite brackets. It means they can only meet in the championship match. They didn’t know that until being told on Wednesday afternoon. Their eyes lit up and smiles flashed across their faces.
“The finals are our goal now, although it’d be pretty tough playing against your best friend. I root for him all the time,” Whaley said.
“That would be unreal,” Davis said. “Honestly, it would probably be more fun than nervous, because I’ve known him for so long that we’d both be in our own comfort zone.”
Just two teens playing a casual round of golf – for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.
NOTE: High school teammates Jim Weichers and James (Troncatty) Sullivan met in the final of the 1962 U.S. Junior Amateur final, with Weichers prevailing. Both attended Bellarmine Prep in San Jose. It's the only time high school teammates have met in a Junior Amateur final.
Rob Duca is a New England-based freelance writer who is contributing to USGA.org this week.