It's another glorious day in the Pacific Northwest. The sun is out and temperatures are in the upper 50s and expected to rise ever so slightly during the day. Those suffering from the stifling heat and humidity in most of the country probably don't want to hear this.
But the eight golfers remaining in this year's U.S. Junior Amateur are quite happy to be playing in these conditions.
Two of the pre-championship favorites, including 2009 champion Jordan Spieth, have survived the first three rounds of match play. Medalist Beau Hossler, who qualified for last month's U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club and won last week's Junior Worlds at Torrey Pines in San Diego, also is in the mix. Hossler takes on Adam Ball of Richmond, Va., who twice avoided defeat on Thursday with comeback victories. He used a loss-of-hole penalty for slow play to his advantage to first eliminate James Park of Korea. Park had made a birdie putt on No. 11 to go what he thought was 4 up in the match. Instead, the penalty pushed the status down to 2 up. From there, Park struggled with his form and Ball rallied for the victory.
Then in the afternoon, Ball was 3 down after 12 holes to Juan Yumar of Venezuela. He won No. 13 with a par, then had an eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie finish for a remarkable 2-up win. His final birdie on No. 18 was conceded but the other three were shots to within 5 feet of the hole.
Ball will need to continue that kind of golf to beat the hot Hossler. In the first round, Hossler was 4 down after four holes to Miller Capps, the last qualifier out of the Tuesday 12-for-10 playoff. Then he reeled off seven birdies in 12 holes, only one of which was conceded, for a 3-and-2 victory. Hossler also had to grind out a 1-up second-round win over Austin Smotherman before rolling in his third-round match over Connor Black.
Spieth is looking to join Tiger Woods as the only multiple champions in Junior history. He said after his matches on Thursday that he's still looking to put that one perfect round together where all aspects of his game are firing in sync.
Spieth would dearly love to win another USGA title to bolster his chances of making this year's Walker Cup Team. Already ranked among the top 10 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, this title certainly wouldn't deter his efforts. He also will be playing in the Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur in the coming weeks.
Of course, the champion could be someone few had heard about prior to this week. How about Chelso Barrett of Keene, N.H. His family runs the Bretwood Golf Course, a 36-hole public facility. He could join Austin Eaton and Pat Bradley as a USGA champion from New Hampshire. But more importantly, by making it to the quarterfinals, he is exempt into next year's Junior Amateur, which will be played at the Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H. It will be almost a home game.
What about Nicolas Echavarria of Colombia. In 1999, a young Colombian named Camilo Villegas made it to the Junior Amateur final, only to lose to the hottest junior in the country that year, Hunter Mahan. Echavarria's brother, Andres, is a past All-American at the University of Florida.
And Will Starke of Chapin, S.C., definitely has shown his game this week. He finished as the No. 2 seed, but has gone through the bracket in relative anonymity. He hasn't even used a caddie, preferring to carry his clubs or use a pull cart. For the quarterfinals, the 2012 University of South Carolina commit will employ a caddie.
One thing we do know: By the end of the day, there will be two finalists. -- David Shefter