second successive year, Riley, 17, of Hattiesburg, Miss., lost in the final,
this time by a 5-and-3 margin to William Zalatoris, 17, of Plano, Texas, Saturday
at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course.
players had previously rebounded from a loss in the final to win the following
year – the last being Tim Straub in 1982-83 – Riley becomes the first in this
championship’s 67-year history to lose two straight final-round matches.
proud of how I played,” said Riley, who lost by a 3-and-2 margin to Scottie
Scheffler at Martis Camp Club in Truckee, Calif., a year ago “Last year was
kind of the same deal. I played well, but Scottie won the last four to win it.
So, similar performances and I didn’t beat myself either time.
“It gives me
a lot of confidence to know that I can play with anybody when my game is on.”
has committed to the University of Alabama for fall 2015, played the 33 holes
of the par-72, 7,212-yard Nicklaus Course in 3 under par given the usual match-play
concessions. Zalatoris, who will attend Wake Forest University starting in
August, was 7 under par for the match.
Riley have known each other for eight years, since they played in a U.S. Kids
Golf World Championship in Pinehurst, N.C. The champion had nothing but respect
and praise for his friend and competitor.
“I told him
exactly what I said during the awards ceremony, you're an incredible player,”
Zalatoris said. “He was a great player then and he's an incredible player now.
I said I had the round of my life today. I said for me to win and have the round
of my life means that you weren't far off. I told him, ‘Keep at it kid,’
because that was awesome. “
recognized he was in for a Texas-style shootout when he and Zalatoris combined
for four birdies in the opening three holes. On this sweltering day, the finalists
combined for 21 birdies and an eagle.
the match’s first 2-up lead with a birdie at the 160-yard, par-3 12th hole, but
Zalatoris managed to square the match by the end of the morning’s 18.
rolled in birdie putts of 12 and 20 feet to win the opening two holes of the
afternoon round and stretched his lead to 3 up through the 27th hole.
“I was just
telling myself, ‘Stay in it, you fought back against Sam [Horsfield] and that
came out pretty good,’” said Riley, who rallied from a 2-down deficit through
12 holes to defeat the second-seeded Horsfield in Friday’s 21-hole semifinal.
“I got to 2 down [against Zalatoris], but when I missed an 8-foot putt for
birdie on 13, I kind of knew from there it was going to be a tough road ahead.”
Zalatoris holed out for eagle from 119 yards on the 437-yard, par-4 14th hole.
much you can do at that point,” Riley said.
Zalatoris of his afternoon round, “That round today, on that golf course, under
that type of pressure, that's the best round of my life today.”
this week, Riley was asked about last year’s gut-tugging loss to Scheffler.
That match ended when Riley called a Rules infraction on himself as he prepared
for a birdie putt on the 34th hole. Riley said the ball moved at address,
leading to a one-stroke penalty and a bogey.
Riley answered in a poised, respectful manner. But he admitted that the loss stung
and served as motivation for this week’s championship.
“It hurt for
a while, but I got over it,” said Riley, who qualified for the U.S. Amateur by
advancing to Saturday’s final. “I’m a golfer, there is always another
That may be,
but sadly there will be no more U.S. Junior Amateur Championships for him to
try and win.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based
freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.