Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Ricardo Gouveia decided to take time off from competitive golf this summer.
Comfortably inside the top 50 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) at the July 20 deadline for the U.S. Amateur, the 21-year-old from Portugal knew he had secured a spot in the field at Cherry Hills Country Club this week.
So after playing in the British Amateur in June, where he reached the round of 16, and playing in a qualifier for next year’s European Team Championship, Gouveia basically shut it down, preferring to save his energy for one of the world’s biggest championships.
“I wanted to hang out with friends and family because it’s important,” said Gouveia. “I don’t get to spend much time with my family. It was for my mental side. It’s important to relax.”
That philosophy seems to be working quite nicely. Gouveia, who is currently ranked No. 41 in the WAGR, is quietly rolling through the match-play draw. He played his best golf of the U.S. Amateur in Thursday afternoon’s third round, posting an impressive 6-and-4 victory over 19-year-old Devon Purser, of Clearfield, Utah. Gouveia was the equivalent of five under par – with the usual match-play concessions – against Purser, registering six birdies against a lone bogey at No. 13 when he was dormie-6.
“Today in the afternoon is the best I have played all week,” said Gouveia, now a quarterfinalist in his first USGA championship. He faces Michael Weaver, of Fresno, Calif., who defeated Albin Choi of Canada in 19 holes, on Friday morning at 8:45 MDT. “I think the other matches I got a little lucky. The other guys didn’t put a lot of pressure on me. But this match, definitely, I played my best match … and the result tells everything.”
Of the eight quarterfinalists, Gouveia has played the fewest amount of holes (45) through three match-play rounds. World No. 1 Chris Williams, of Moscow, Idaho, has needed just 47 holes to reach the final eight.
Gouveia, who shot 1-under 140 in stroke play, hasn’t seen the 17th and 18th at Cherry Hills since Monday morning’s first nine of stroke-play qualifying. Nor has he trailed in any match. He opened match play on Wednesday with a 4-and-3 win over Eric Frazzetta, of Long Beach, Calif., and then defeated Patrick Duncan Jr., of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., 3 and 2, on Thursday morning.
“I was telling my dad this afternoon, I don’t even feel tired,” said Gouveia. “My legs feel like I haven’t even started the tournament. It’s [part] adrenaline, of course. But it’s mostly because I had a relaxed summer.”
Gouveia was introduced to the game by his father at the age of 6. His parents belong to Villamora Golf Club in the Algarve region of Portugal; the course regularly hosts the Portugal Masters on the PGA European Tour. As he progressed through the junior ranks, few American Division I schools offered a scholarship. So Gouveia enrolled at Division II Lynn College in Boca Raton, Fla., at the suggestion of a friend who knew the assistant golf coach. In his freshman year (2010-11), he was named a Division II All-American and earned the Phil Mickelson Award as the division’s top player.
At that point, the University of Central Florida took notice. Seeing an opportunity to face better competition and play an upgraded schedule, Gouveia transferred to the Orlando school.
It has worked out quite well, as Gouveia helped the Golden Knights earn a spot in the NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club by placing fifth at the Stanford Regional.
Gouveia said the move has greatly benefitted his game.
“I got lucky last year to get a really good coach, Bryce Wallor,” said Gouveia. “I credit him and assistant coach Bill Rankin. They have developed my game a lot since I’ve been in the States.”
In past years, Gouveia never attempted to qualify for the U.S. Amateur due to the enormous expense of flying overseas to play in a 36-hole sectional with no guarantee of a spot. In 2011, he was ranked outside the top 50 in the WAGR, the first year the USGA began offering WAGR exemptions for the top 50.
This year, Gouveia played his way into that elite group. He lost, 1 down, to Sweden’s Robert Karlsson in the round of 16 at the British Amateur at Royal Troon in Scotland.
Next month, he will represent Portugal, along with UCLA All-American Pedro Figueiredo (who missed match play this week), at the World Amateur Team Championship in Turkey. He’s also earned one of the two amateur exemptions into next year’s Portugal Masters.
By reaching the quarterfinals this week, Gouveia has earned himself an exemption into the 2013 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., as well as an exemption out of local qualifying for the 2013 U.S. Open.
But a couple of more wins would put him into the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club as well as a likely invitation to the 2013 Masters. A victory would get him into the 2013 British Open at Muirfield.
“Me, Pedro, this Ricardo [Santos] guy [who became the first Portuguese-born golfer to win a European Tour event at the 2012 Madeira Islands Open] are trying to put Portuguese golf on the map,” said Gouveia, who could become the first USGA champion from Portugal. “Mostly it’s all about soccer. Every little game they show on TV. Everyone goes crazy about it.
“Maybe we can kind of get other kids [in Portugal] to look at and think about playing [golf]. I think it’s important to look at.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.