Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – The shot seemed destined for disaster.
There were 200 yards to cover, uphill, from a fairway bunker with a steep lip to clear. But when the 8-iron landed inches beyond a greenside bunker and settled 7 feet from the hole, Michael Miller couldn’t believe it.
He flipped his wedge in the air in amazement. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his shot.
Oliver Goss of Australia, who had been playing something akin to Arnold Palmer-like, go-for-broke golf for the previous two hours, struck the fateful stroke at the par-4 second hole at Cherry Hills Country Club. And when he holed the putt for birdie, he had claimed victory in 20 holes Thursday afternoon in the second round of the 112th U.S. Amateur.
“I kept telling myself I was out of options. I had to start playing aggressively and making some putts. Fortunately, they started going in,” said Goss, who rallied from 3 down with eight holes remaining to stun Miller, 20, of Brewster, N.Y. “I just made it happen.”
Goss, 18, the youngest player left in the field, meets Bobby Leopold of Cranston, R.I., in the round of 16 this afternoon. Leopold, a 4-and-3 winner over Devin Miertschin of El Paso, Texas, is the oldest player remaining, at 27.
Miller seemingly had the match under control when he went 3 up by stiffing his approach to 2 feet for birdie at the par-4 10th hole. But Goss, a native of Surrey, England, who now resides in Perth, Western Australia, turned things around with bits of every part of his game.
He cut into Miller’s lead with a 25-foot birdie at the par-5 11th and a conceded birdie at the 12th when his tee shot into the par-3 settled 2 feet away.
Miller’s par at No. 13 restored a 2-up advantage when Goss couldn’t get up and down from the front-left greenside bunker. But Goss erased that with two more birdies, at 16 and 17. The first was earned with a 14-foot putt, and the second with a two-putt birdie from 20 feet when he reached the green from 250 yards with a 5-iron.
Goss also received a break on 17 when Miller pulled a 4-foot birdie try after an excellent pressure-filled wedge approach. “If there was one shot I’d want to have back, it’s that putt at 17 that let him get back to even,” Miller, a former Penn State University standout, said glumly. “Otherwise, it was all him. He played some unbelievable golf down the stretch.”
The match might have ended on 18, but Miller, after a 5-iron from 250 yards, left a 22-foot birdie try on the lip. Goss, meanwhile, saved par from a sticky greenside lie, keeping the match alive with a 6-foot putt.
After the 19th hole, the par-4 first, was halved with pars, Goss ended things. Miller just missed his birdie try from 40 feet and then watched Goss roll in the winner.
“I started pretty shaky, but I found my swing,” said Goss, who ended up making birdie on five of his last 10 holes. “Still flubbed a few, but I’m feeling good about my game now.”
Miller, who has left Penn State to concentrate on making the 2013 U.S. Walker Cup team, didn’t have anything to be ashamed off, playing solid golf. He reached match play after playing his first nine holes of his opening round of stroke play at Cherry Hills in five over par. He rallied to shoot 1-over 72 and then qualified for match play with an even-par 70 at CommonGround Golf Course, the companion qualifying venue.
“I just wanted to get on the radar and show some people my game,” said Miller, who lost in the first round last year at Erin Hills. “From where I was after nine holes the first day, I played four under from there the last 27 holes. The frustrating thing is, I had him. He’s a great player and he did what he needed to do. You can’t argue with the quality of shots he hit. That’s match play.”
With no plans to turn pro due to his Walker Cup ambitions, Miller was looking ahead to other competitive opportunities. He was named to the New York team that will compete in next month’s USGA Men’s State Team Championship at Galloway (N.J.) National, and in October he will represent the USA in a match against a team from France.
“The Walker Cup is a huge goal,” he said, of the biennial competition that will be played at The National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y., Sept. 7-8, 2013. “I’m excited about my golf and where I’m headed. Hopefully, I keep playing well and do well in the tournaments I have coming up.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.