LORTON, Va. – Alberto Sanchez picked the right time to get his feet wet.
On the first hole of Tuesday’s 13-for-11 playoff, Sanchez tugged his tee shot into the water hazard to the left of the green at the par-3 16th. He found his ball sitting up on a clump, and thought it might be playable.
“It was far enough in there where I was kind of debating about whether or not to just take a drop,” said Sanchez, 19, of Nogales, Ariz., a sophomore at Arizona State University. “I was thinking of what was the best way to make bogey. I thought bogey would be OK with so many guys playing.”
His strategy for getting to the target score was up for debate. When he mentioned the idea of going into the hazard to his father/caddie Alberto Sr., the elder Sanchez offered, “Do you think that’s the best way to make bogey?”
Although he wavered at first, Alberto Jr. finally took his shoes and socks off and made his way into the water, wedge in hand.
“I thought I kind of had to go for broke,” he said. “I had to [be] aggressive and see what would happen.”
Most couldn’t believe their eyes. Sanchez managed to dislodge the ball as water and mud spattered everywhere at impact. Most importantly, the ball found the putting surface, coming to rest about 20 feet above the hole.
“I’ve never done that in my life,” said Sanchez of the high-risk play.
He nearly holed his par putt, but, as he surmised, a bogey 4 was good enough to continue in the playoff that extended to Wednesday morning. Seven players got into match play on the first hole and one was eliminated, leaving five to play for the final four spots. His miraculous recovery was part of an adventurous day for Sanchez, who made two double bogeys and a quintuple-bogey 9 at the par-4 fifth hole, his 14th of the day. Undeterred, Sanchez drove the green at the par-4 seventh and knocked in a 12-foot eagle putt that would ultimately get him into the playoff and set up his once-in-a-lifetime shot.
On Wednesday morning, the recovery became complete as he made birdie from close range at the par-4 10th hole to secure a spot in the 64-player match-play field. Sanchez lost his opening-round match to Sam Horsfield, 3 and 2, but it’s a safe bet that Sanchez’s shot from the water would have made Phil Mickelson – a fellow Sun Devil with whom Sanchez played a practice round in the 2012 U.S. Open – proud.
“I think he would’ve appreciated that,” Sanchez said with a laugh.
The honors keep rolling in for Michael Kim.
On Wednesday morning, the USGA named Kim and four others to the 2013 USA Walker Cup Team. This year’s match will be played in September at National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y.
“It’s really an honor to represent my country,” said Kim, 20, of Del Mar, Calif. “I haven’t played a lot of links-style golf, but I’m really looking forward to it. It will be a fun, new challenge.”
Kim won four collegiate events in his sophomore year at the University of California-Berkeley. He also won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the NCAA Division I player of the year and the Fred Haskins Award as the national collegiate player of the year as determined in voting by collegiate golfers, coaches and members of the national media.
“Going into the season, I didn’t think I could do that well, but it’s been a really nice surprise,” said Kim, who currently sits second in the World Amateur Golf Ranking behind Cheng-Tsung Pan, a rising junior at the University of Washington. “Hopefully I can take that confidence into the Walker Cup – and the championship this week as well.”
At Laurel Hill, Kim is looking to add a USGA title to his already impressive resume. The 2013 APL is his fourth USGA championship. Last year, he advanced to the third round of the APL and lost in the first round of the U.S. Amateur. Last month, Kim finished as the low amateur by five strokes at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., tying for 17th place.
In Wednesday’s first-round match, Kim soundly defeated fellow Southern Californian Brandon Hortt, 8 and 6. He will face Lucas Kim, of Canada, in the second round.
The average age of the 64 players to advance to the match-play portion of the 2013 APL was just over 22 years. That number includes 18 teenagers and 25 players in all under age 21.
Those numbers would seem to indicate that this championship has shifted toward a younger generation of high school and college players, but you’d have a hard time convincing Greg Condon and Sean Knapp. The two oldest players to make the APL field, at age 51, both advanced to match play. While Knapp won a thrilling 19-hole match with Jon Trasamar and Condon fell, 2 and 1, to Ian Davis – both relished the opportunity to compete against players less than half their age.
Condon, a reinstated amateur who took a break when his children, Luke and Arika, were born, credits his son’s interest and development in the game for spurring his recent success in tournament play. But Condon knows he needs to work diligently at his game to keep up with the younger players.
“To play at the level of these kids, I have to be up at 5:30 in the morning during the summer, work at eight, get off at five, then play until the sun comes down,” said Condon, whose son caddied for him this week at Laurel Hill.
Knapp, who is still searching for his first USGA individual title, often plays 36 holes on Saturdays and Sundays while carrying his own bag.
“I do it mostly in an effort to stay competitive with the young players,” said Knapp. “Sometimes being a little shorter than them can be an advantage in match play if you’re hitting quality shots, because you are going first and putting the pressure on them.”
Knapp will face the No. 64 seed, Joshua Stone, in the second round.
The 13-for-11 playoff that began Tuesday evening on the par-3 16th and concluded on the short par-4 10th on Wednesday morning yielded both drama and excitement.
At the 16th, Kyle Henning made birdie, while Justin Shin, Mitchell Rutledge, Justin Wenger, Payne Gniewek, Sam Straka and Brandon Hortt all made pars to advance. David Tepe was eliminated when he made a double-bogey 5 after his tee shot found the water hazard.
The five remaining players – Greg Condon, Alberto Sanchez, Tyler Klava, Joshua Stone and Glenn Przybylski – battled for the final four spots on Wednesday at 7 a.m. Sanchez birdied while Condon, Klava and Stone made pars. Przybylski, who missed the green long with his approach, could only get his chip to within 18 feet. When he missed the putt, the final field of 64 was set.
Of the 11 players who advanced from the playoff, four – Henning, Shin, Rutledge and Stone – won their first-round matches.
Michael Trostel is the senior curator/historian for the USGA Museum. Email him at email@example.com.
Andrew Blair is director of communications for the Virginia State Golf Association. He is assisting the USGA this week at the APL.