Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Michael Weaver insists he doesn’t hate Stanford.
Sure, the Cardinal is the University of California’s chief Pacific-12 rival.
In football, the matchup is termed “The Big Game,” and there’s plenty of history, including the 1982 edition, when the Golden Bears won on a miraculous, final-play kickoff return through the Stanford marching band.
In golf, the rivalry is a bit more laid-back. It’s there, but not with the fanaticism of football, or even basketball.
“It doesn’t motivate me,” said Weaver, a 21-year-old from Fresno, Calif. “I want to win bad enough.”
Weaver’s comeback 2-up win over Stanford All-American Patrick Rodgers on Thursday in the second round of the 2012 U.S. Amateur will certainly live in the memory of this California junior.
Trailing by three holes with six to play at Cherry Hills Country Club, Weaver won four of the final five holes – three with birdies – to earn an afternoon round-of-16 matchup against Albin Choi of Canada.
The rally was all the more impressive considering that Rodgers, a 2011 USA Walker Cup member, came into the match as the No. 9-ranked player in this week’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, which is jointly administered by the USGA and The R&A. Weaver, who needed three holes in Wednesday’s 17-for-14 playoff just to land a spot in the 64-player draw, is ranked 149th.
Ten holes into his second qualifying round on Tuesday at CommonGround Golf Course – the companion venue for stroke play – Weaver stood at five over par. He played his final eight holes in three under to make the cut on the number (2-over 143). After the playoff, he turned around and beat fifth-seeded Zac Blair to join six other playoff survivors in the round of 32.
“Since about 10 o’clock on Tuesday, things have really turned around,” said Weaver.
But beating Rodgers would take a much better performance.
When Rodgers rolled in an eagle putt at the par-5 11th for a 3-up lead, Weaver never hit the panic button. He realized Rodgers wasn’t likely to falter, so he kept his aggressive mindset.
Birdies at 13 and 14 brought the deficit to 1 down. A magnificent up-and-down par at the 15th returned the match to all square. Then a great break at 17 led to what he called his best shot of the day. His tee shot hit a tree and kicked back into the fairway, leaving him 240 yards to the front of the island green. Weaver’s 4-iron found the putting surface and a two-putt birdie gave him a 1-up lead.
Rodgers’ tee shot landed in the pond at 18 and Weaver’s two-putt par sealed the victory.
“That was probably the best six holes I ever played,” said Weaver. “That was something else.”
It certainly made a lot of Cal boosters happy. Golden Bears coach Steve Desimone texted Weaver on Wednesday night to “go and beat the Stanford guy.” Other supporters also tweeted and texted Weaver.
Weaver saw it only as another matchup against a strong opponent.
“There’s a great incentive to beat them because … of the great history there,” said Weaver, who redshirted last season after changing majors. “I’m not really big on [the rivalry]. It’s more of a football thing.
“Our coach says anytime we can beat Stanford it’s a good thing. I just wanted to play well.”
For Weaver, both missions were accomplished.
Advancing past the second round, not revenge, was Justin Thomas’ sole focus going into his match against Max Homa.
The 19-year-old from Goshen, Ky., got both in a 3-and-1 victory.
The two young college standouts – Thomas will be a sophomore at Alabama and Homa a senior at the University of California-Berkeley – were quite familiar with each other. In June, Homa beat Thomas, 2 and 1, in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I Championship at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. Despite the loss, however, Thomas’ team still advanced to the final, where the Crimson Tide lost to the University of Texas.
On Thursday, Thomas, ranked fifth in the WAGR, didn’t have teammates to provide backup.
“It was a little different then because of the whole team atmosphere,” said Thomas, the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up who had failed to reach the round of 16 in each of his two previous Amateur appearances. “Even though I lost, the team still won, so it didn’t hurt quite as bad.”
Thomas, who fell to 2011 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup member Jack Senior at Erin Hills last year and future Alabama teammate Scott Strohmeyer in 2010 at Chambers Bay, appeared headed for another round-of-32 exit against Homa.
Homa, coming off a 5-and-4 first-round win over Corey Conners, never trailed until a costly mistake at the par-3 15th, which was his Waterloo this week. In stroke-play qualifying on Tuesday, Homa (No. 30 in the WAGR) made a triple-bogey 6. Against Thomas he three-putted from 15 feet, knocking his par attempt 7 feet by the hole.
“That’s the thing out here, you’ve got to stay below the hole,” said Thomas, who also found a greenside bunker, but his recovery shot rolled 8 feet to the left of the flag, leaving a slightly easier par putt. “That’s why it is the U.S. Am.”
Added Homa, a 21-year-old from Valencia, Calif.: “[That] first putt obviously got away from me. I didn’t putt very well today. I didn’t putt very well all week. I just hit a bad [bogey] putt and obviously that killed me.”
Thomas took command at No. 16, stuffing a gap-wedge approach to 8 feet and a winning birdie. Two holes up at the par-5 17th, Thomas avoided the cross bunker by hitting iron off the tee.
Homa, figuring he needed eagle to continue the match, gambled with a driver and found one of two bunkers, and when he failed to hole his 35-foot birdie putt, he conceded the hole and match to Thomas.
“He’s more than pretty talented,” said Homa of Thomas. “From the people I’ve seen, he’s the best player in the world. It’s always tough going against that.”
Thomas admitted that he’s matured a lot in the past year, not only with added distance but his mental approach. So far, that mindset is paying off in the Amateur.
“Just everything is a little better,” said Thomas.
It certainly won’t get easier in Thursday afternoon’s third round. Thomas faced medalist and college teammate Bobby Wyatt, of Mobile, Ala., at 1:15 p.m. MDT.
“Bobby is one of my best friends,” said Thomas. “We’re just going to go out and try to give everybody a show.”
While the Weaver-Rodgers match produced a collegiate rivalry, Cheng-Tsung Pan’s 3-and-1 win over Gavin Green was a Pan Pacific matchup. Pan is from Chinese Taipei and Green hails from Malaysia, although both play college golf in the U.S.; Pan at Washington and Green at New Mexico.
Brandon Hagy’s 5-and-4 win over Paul Misko was a cross-county affair as both Southern Californians are from Ventura County. The 21-year-old Hagy, who went eagle-par-birdie in winning his first-round match over Denny McCarthy, is from Westlake Village, while the 23-year-old Misko resides in nearby Thousand Oaks.
Ace For Pieters
Reigning NCAA Division I champion Thomas Pieters, of Belgium, registered the championship’s first hole-in-one in his second-round match against Albin Choi, of Canada. Pieters, a junior at the University of Illinois, aced the sixth hole with an 8-iron. Choi, however, won the match, 4 and 3.
Five of the 16 second-round matches featured comebacks from three-hole deficits. Besides Weaver, medalist Bobby Wyatt rallied to beat Michael Stieger, 2 up; Andrew Presley rebounded to beat Talor Gooch, 1 up; Patrick Newcomb defeated Michael Hebert in 19 holes, and Oliver Goss defeated Mike Miller in 20 holes.David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org