Adam Ball of Richmond, Va., finds himself in a familiar position at this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Gold Mountain Golf Club’s Olympic Course.
For a second straight year, Ball has advanced to the round of 32 at the national championship. The eighth low qualifier for match play, the 17-year-old Ball scored a 3 and 2 victory over George Cunningham (Litchfield Park, Ariz.) in Wednesday morning’s round of 64 to open match play.
A rising junior at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Ball started to take control of an all-square match, winning three consecutive holes, Nos. 6-8 - a stretch he played in the stroke play equivalent of two under par counting the usual match play concessions - to own a three holes up advantage after nine. Cunningham closed to within one after 12 before Ball answered with consecutive par wins at Nos. 13 and 14 to go back to three holes up; he closed the match with a halve at the par-3 16th hole.
Ball was in the same position at last year’s U.S. Junior at Egypt Valley (Mich.) Country Club in Ada, Mich., before falling to Marcel Puyat of the Philippines, 4 and 2, in the round of 32. Ball led in the early stages of the match and smacked his golf glove against the side of his trousers in frustration shortly after the encounter’s conclusion, feeling that he’d allowed things to get away.
After medaling in sectional qualifying for the U.S. Junior, shooting 5-under 139 (74-65) at the par-72, 7,002-yard Independence Golf Club in Midlothian, Va., and posting even-par in two-round qualifying at Gold Mountain, Ball feels a year of maturity and experience is an ally. He’ll face Korea’s James Park, the 25th low qualifier for match play, in Thursday’s round of 32 match that begins at 7:48 a.m. (pdt). Park opened match play by getting past Robert Deng of Irvine, Calif., 2 and 1.
Ball admittedly made the trip to the Pacific Northwest with a purpose in mind – and it doesn’t include an early 2,900 mile trek back to central Virginia.
“I’ve always dreamt about winning the U.S. Junior,” Ball said following the sectional qualifier at Independence. “I’m going to go out there with that dream, and hopefully I can achieve it.”
Even as a teenager, Ball knows all about the survive and advance mindset that accompanies match play. In late June, he won the Virginia State Golf Association Junior Match Play Championship, winning four matches to take home his first title in the event. A week earlier Ball claimed four matches in reaching the final of the Richmond Golf Association Amateur Championship.
And he enters the U.S. Junior with some momentum on his side, posting a top-10 finish at the Eastern Amateur Championship on July 11 at Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club in Portsmouth, Va., an event that draws a national field.
Ball, coached by his father, Matt, the head men’s golf coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, has added size and strength to his game in recent years and is hoping to stand tallest by week’s end at a championship he’s longing to win.
Following two rounds of match play on Thursday at the U.S. Junior, the quarterfinals and semifinals are set for Friday, July 22. The scheduled 18-hole final is set for Saturday, July 23. -- Andrew Blair