BROOKLINE, Mass. – Behind the 18th green at The Country Club late Friday afternoon, Australians Oliver Goss and Brady Watt enjoyed a congratulatory embrace.
Watt had just finished a hard-fought, 1-up U.S. Amateur quarterfinal victory over reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Scottie Scheffler to set up an all-Aussie semifinal on Saturday.
Goss, who had defeated Brandon Matthews, 5 and 3, some 20 minutes earlier, wanted to be greenside on No. 18 to see his close friend and housemate. The two are rooming together this week at a house in Wellesley, Mass., and planned to attend Friday night’s Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game at Fenway Park.
On Saturday, the two buddies, who are 11,627 miles from their hometown of Perth in Western Australia, are now set to duel for a spot in Sunday’s 36-hole championship match.
If there’s a silver lining for Golf Australia High-Performance coach Brad James, it’s the fact that at least one Australian will be playing for the Havemeyer Trophy.
“Unbelievable,” said James, who left his position as head men’s coach at the University of Minnesota three years ago for his current post. “Just to get two guys in the quarterfinals is quite an accomplishment. For them to get to the semifinals … fantastic.”
This won’t be the first time Goss and Watt have dueled for a big prize. At last year’s Western Australian Open, a professional event on the PGA Tour of Australasia, both finished the 72-hole tournament at 16 under par by making birdies on the final two holes of regulation. In the sudden-death playoff, which lasted five holes, Watt and Goss registered matching birdies over the first four holes before Goss prevailed with a par.
Two weeks later, Goss was in the Australian Masters on a sponsor’s invitation and was grouped with countryman Adam Scott and 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. Goss, 19, had never played in front of crowds that large and was a bit overwhelmed. The previous summer, he reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver, where he lost to 2013 USA Walker Cup member Justin Thomas.
That experience, along with the opportunity to play with McDowell and Scott, one of his longtime idols, were stepping stones for this year’s U.S. Amateur.
A semester at the University of Tennessee – where he enrolled this past January – also proved beneficial for Goss’ growth as a player. He started to develop better practice habits and course-management skills. In six college events he produced a win – in Myrtle Beach, S.C. – and two top-five finishes to earn All-Southeastern Conference honors.
Top-tier players in Australia don’t always go the American college route. The 22-year-old Watt, his opponent on Saturday, chose to be a janitor at an office building in Perth, working nights while honing his golf skills during the day. Nathan Holman, another 22-year-old Australian who reached the third round this week, is a waiter. Nick Flanagan, who 10 years ago became only the second Australian-born golfer to win the U.S. Amateur (Walter Travis won in 1900, 1901 and 1903), also eschewed American college offers.
“College isn’t for everyone,” said Goss, “but it was definitely right for me. Some think that college ruins your golf game, which is completely untrue.”
Because of his contacts and experience with the collegiate scene, Goss leaned heavily on James for advice and found that Tennessee had everything he was looking for.
When his abbreviated freshman season concluded at this year’s NCAA Championship in Georgia, Goss originally planned to return to Perth and Royal Fremantle Golf Club, the same club that produced 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Minjee Lee. The two are good friends and occasionally compete against one another.
But Goss decided to stay in the U.S. He “chilled” for two weeks before starting his U.S. summer competition schedule, which included The Players Amateur (sixth), Southern Amateur (20th) and Western Amateur (failed to make cut for final 36 holes). Between the Southern and Western amateurs, he spent a week in Houston at an Australian National Team camp, where all the coaches and top players assemble each year.
“His game has taken off to a new level since coming to college,” said James, who was at the camp. “That extra competition playing in the collegiate level … toughened up his game a bit.”
Goss, now No. 13 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, has shown his mettle from the outset of match play. He rallied to beat 2013 British Amateur runner-up Toni Hakula in the first round, 1 up, and then edged Carr Vernon, 2 up, in the Round of 32. In the third round Thursday afternoon, he needed 17 holes to beat Xander Schauffele, 3 and 1.
Goss had a few shaky moments against Matthews, like when he sailed a 6-iron approach over the green into the water hazard at the par-4 third and missed a 5-foot putt for double-bogey 6 to halve the hole. But otherwise, he played steadily and closed out his opponent by holing a 12-foot birdie putt at the 15th hole.
“I definitely didn’t expect to win 5-and-3 today,” said Goss. “But I’m glad I got the job done.”
A win Saturday over Watt, No. 9 in the WAGR, would put Goss into the finals, which would mean an exemption into next year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and a likely invitation to the Masters. Traditionally, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion is paired at the Masters with the defending champion, meaning he would play alongside Adam Scott.
“He’s definitely the golfer I idolize the most,” said Goss of Scott. “He’s definitely the person I look up to, not just in golf, but his whole persona. It would be great to play with him [again]. He’s a real nice guy. I hope he remembers me.”
Flanagan, who won this title 10 years ago in 37 holes over Casey Wittenberg at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, tweeted this week that he’d like to see another Aussie name on the trophy. “I’m feeling a bit lonely,” he wrote.
Come Sunday afternoon, he may very well have company.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.