Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Albin Choi and Mackenzie Hughes of Canada were enjoying dinner Tuesday night when the U.S. Amateur match-play pairings were released for Wednesday’s first round at Cherry Hills.
Suddenly, the food wasn’t so appetizing.
There it was on the bracket: Choi vs. Hughes, just what the two roommates didn’t want to see.
“It was a bit of a shock for both of us,” said Choi, Canada’s No. 2-ranked player and No. 32 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking that is jointly administered by The R&A and USGA. “But we made the best of it and wished each other luck.”
Choi, after trailing by as many as three holes early and by two holes through 10, rallied for a 2-and-1 victory over Hughes, who won last week’s Canadian Amateur to earn a spot in the Amateur field.
“That was by far one of the hardest matches I have ever had to play,” said Choi, a Toronto native who will be a junior at North Carolina State. “It was tough playing on such a big stage against such a great friend.”
Hughes, of Dundas, Ontario, and a Kent State graduate, seemed in control of the match after making a birdie on the par-4 10th hole. The golfers halved the par-5 11th with birdies before Hughes bogeyed the 13th and double-bogeyed the par-4 14th to return the match to all square. Choi closed out the match with consecutive winning pars at Nos. 15 and 16, and a par to halve the 17th.
Whirlwind For Pieters
Reigning NCAA Division I individual champion Thomas Pieters, of Belgium, certainly has had an interesting five days. He didn’t arrive in Denver until Sunday after competing in last week’s European Amateur in Ireland, where he tied for 22nd after an opening-round 66. A quick trans-Atlantic flight got Pieters to Colorado in time for the U.S. Amateur, but without the benefit of a practice round.
Without seeing Cherry Hills C.C. or the companion qualifying course CommonGround, Pieters managed a 2-over 143 total, good enough to get the University of Illinois junior into a 17-for-14 playoff for the final match-play spots. In fact, he birdied his final three holes at CommonGround just to get on the cut number.
“I just didn’t know where to hit it,” said Pieters. “I had a caddie but he didn’t know my distances and I kept hitting the ball through the fairway and into bunkers.”
Before Wednesday morning’s playoff, Pieters checked out of his hotel, where he was sharing a room with a college teammate, and moved his belongings to a host family’s home.
A par on the first playoff hole – Cherry Hills’ 10th hole – earned the 6-foot-3, 20-year-old a spot opposite world No. 3 Jordan Spieth, who led Texas to the 2012 NCAA Division I team title and was low amateur at the 2012 U.S. Open.
Pieters, ranked 10th in the WAGR, took a 2-up lead through nine holes and held on, as Spieth, a two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion, missed a critical short birdie putt on No. 17 that would have squared the match.
“I just went out and played my own game,” said Pieters, who faces Choi in the round of 32 on Thursday morning.
Pieters would like to join the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods as players who won the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year. Mickelson achieved the feat in 1990 when the Amateur last visited Cherry Hills.
Playing For Dad
Andrew Biggadike is a Northern California resident (Belmont) who moved back to Ridgewood, N.J., in the past year to be with his ailing father, Ralph, who has pancreatic cancer. A software engineer, Biggadike was able to relocate without giving up his job.
Finally qualifying for the U.S. Amateur after 17 unsuccessful attempts was a major morale boost for Biggadike and his family. Unfortunately, the 34-year-old came up on the short end of a 3-and-2 first-round match against Doug Hanzel. Still, advancing to match play was big for Biggadike, whose only other USGA experience was the 1995 U.S. Junior Amateur at Fargo (N.D.) Country Club.
“This has been a really special week for the entire family,” said Biggadike, who plays out of The Olympic Club, site of this year’s U.S. Open. “[My dad] couldn’t be here. He wants to be here. I just didn’t want to be here, but I wanted to play well and call home and hear that he’s smiling. Anything that can put a smile on his face makes me happy.”
Odds and Ends
A total of eight mid-amateurs (25 and over) qualified for match play, with three, Todd White (44), Doug Hanzel(55) and Robert Leopold (27) advancing to the round of 32… White is one of the four golfers in the field this week who competed in the 1990 Amateur at Cherry Hills… The last mid-amateur to win the U.S. Amateur was John Harris at age 41 in 1993 at Champions G.C. in Houston. Austin Eaton IIIis the last mid-am to reach the semifinals (2005 at Merion G.C.)… The youngest qualifier was 17-year-old Evan Bowser, of Dearborn, Mich., and the oldest was Hanzel, 55, of Savannah, Ga. Bowser was eliminated by Cheng-Tsung Pan, of Chinese Taipei, 4 and 3… Two players from Moscow – Idaho and Pennsylvania – were in match play. World No. 1 Chris Williams (Moscow, Idaho) beat Peter Williamson, 3 and 2, and Nicholas Reach (Moscow, Pa.) lost to Patrick Duncan Jr., 1 down... The average age of the match-play field is 22.0… Of the 14 players who earned match-play spots via Wednesday’s 17-man playoff, seven produced victories, including Pieters’ 1-up win over Spieth. Another playoff survivor, Edouard Espana, of France, eliminated Curtis Thompson, of Coral Springs, Fla., 1 up. Thompson, a sophomore at Louisiana State, is the brother of 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion and LPGA Tour player Lexi Thompson and current Web.com Tour player Nicholas Thompson… Cherry Hills member Michael Schoolcraft lost a late lead and dropped a 19-hole decision to Zack Munroe… Of the four University of California-Berkeley golfers who made match play, three advanced to the round of 32: Max Homa (5 and 4 over Corey Conners); playoff survivor Michael Weaver (2 and 1 over fifth-seeded Zac Blair); and Brandon Hagy(19 holes over playoff survivor Denny McCarthy). Hagy went eagle-par-birdie to win the final three holes of his match. Michael Kim was the lone victim, falling to Leopold in 20 holes…Six of the 32 matches went to extra holes. Last year, just one first-round match was extended beyond 18, with John Peterson needing 22 holes to eliminate Todd Baek.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.