With a bogey-free, 5-under 67 in the opening round of stroke-play
qualifying at the 67th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, Riley built on the
momentum of his strong play this year in his final bid for a U.S. Junior title.
Riley, 17, of Hattiesburg, Miss., executed a clinical
round on the 7,219-yard, par-72 layout of the Nicklaus Course at The Club at
Carlton Woods. Riley mixed the accuracy off the tee and the dialed-in precision
for his approach shots that one would expect of one of the top juniors in the
Playing in his third junior event at Carlton Woods – he
finished 17th at the 2013 HP Boys Championship and sixth at this year’s AJGA
CB&I Boys Championship on the Fazio Course – Riley capitalized when the
golf course presented him with an opportunity for a good score.
“Coming in today, I just told myself it was all about
fairways and greens,” Riley said. “I did exactly that. I hit a ton of greens,
made a few putts when I got it up there within 10 feet and just went from
“It was playing pretty tough. There’s definitely a low
number out there, but you have to play target golf off the tee and put yourself
in good spots.”
Monday’s performance backs up Riley’s strong 2014 campaign
in both the junior and amateur ranks, which thus far includes four top-10
finishes in six events, highlighted by his April victory at the Terra Cotta
Invitational at Naples (Fla.) National Golf Club.
Winning the Terra Cotta, which includes names such as
Matt Kuchar, Jerry Courville Jr., Bud Cauley and Justin Thomas among its
champions, gave Riley confidence heading into his third U.S. Junior. It was
also a relief after posting four runner-up finishes in his junior career.
“It helped me out a lot. I had so many runner-ups,” he
said. “It felt really good to get all that weight off your shoulders and get
that win at a big-time tournament.”
Riley’s most painful runner-up finish occurred in last
year’s U.S. Junior at Martis Camp Club in Truckee, Calif. Riley led Scottie
Scheffler by as many as 3 up in the 36-hole final before eventually falling
short by a 3-and-2 margin.
Trailing by two holes, Riley’s championship bid
officially ended when he called a Rules infraction on himself on the 34th hole.
Facing a long birdie putt from just off the green, Riley barely nudged the ball
at address. The one-stroke penalty clinched the hole and the match for
An unfortunate end such as the one Riley endured at
Martis Camp could rattle the most seasoned of players. But the results say
Riley has moved on quite nicely.
Riley’s 2014 started with the sixth-place finish at the
CB&I, and followed that up with his victory at the Terra Cotta. He also
finished sixth at the AJGA Junior Invitational at Sage Valley. After placing 23rd
and 38th at the AJGA Thunderbird International Junior and Sunnehanna Amateur,
respectively, Riley rebounded with a seventh-place finish in late June’s AJGA
Rolex Tournament of Champions.
“It was tough to get over. It’s still on your mind after
the tournament,” Riley said of the Rules infraction. “But you can’t let that
bother you. You have to press on and block that out. It’s a new year and a new
tournament, so I’m just going to go from there.”
Riley is taking a simplistic approach in his bid to erase
last year’s disappointment. Despite the great start, Riley knows it’s just the
beginning. He is set up for a high seed when match play begins on Wednesday.
Riley plans on playing smart, safe golf on Tuesday to try to ensure a top-10 to
Assuming he advances to match play, Riley knows where he
needs to improve upon from last year.
“Leading into this tournament, I’ve been really trying to
dial in my putting,” he said. “Your putter wins you matches. Everybody is going
to be up there putting for birdie and you just have to make your putts.”
Finding fairways off the tee, hitting the greens in
regulation and strong putting – Riley’s game plan, one no doubt shared by
everyone else in the field, sounds simple enough when you put it like that. But
quite often it does not work out that way.
There’s a long way to go, but perhaps Riley can continue
to execute his plan and write the U.S. Junior ending he’s been hoping for.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.