Derek Ernst’s experience at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Soldier Hollow Golf Course illustrates why a match-play championship is so difficult to win.
"I played well all week," said Ernst, the 2011 Amateur Public Links runner-up. "I kept being around three and four under in every one of my matches and I won 5 and 4, 5 and 4, and 4 and 3. Even in my last match, I was three under."
If the championship were stroke play, Ernst probably would have been leading. But in his semifinal match, he faced T.J. Vogel, who played his best round of the week.
"It’s hard to beat a guy who’s seven under through 15 holes," said Ernst, who lost to Vogel 4 and 3.
Ernst’s run didn’t reach as far as it did last year at Bandon Dunes, when he lost to Corbin Mills in 37 holes in the final. He was disappointed that he came close for the second straight year, but he is looking forward to the next phase of his career. He plans to turn pro following the U.S. Amateur in August.
"All in all, it was a good run," said Ernst. "I played well. So move on from here."
While Ernst couldn’t surpass his performance at last year’s Public Links, Kyle Beversdorf well exceeded his. The 20-year-old, from Plymouth, Minn., lost in the first round at Bandon Dunes last year.
Beversdorf then had to sit out a year after transferring from the University of Northern Iowa to the University of Minnesota and had little competitive seasoning prior to coming to Soldier Hollow.
"I’ve been looking forward to this event all winter because I couldn’t play my first year at Minnesota," said Beversdorf, who enlisted his younger brother, 15-year-old Alex, to be his caddie. "I played fairly well last year at Bandon Dunes, so I was excited to try to get back here. And I was fortunate enough to qualify."
In his semifinal match against Kevin Aylwin, Beversdorf was 3 down after 12 holes before coming back with birdies on the 13th and 15th holes. But Aylwin’s 30-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole decided the match.
"Kevin played very well on the front nine," said Beversdorf, who defeated Carlos Rodriguez in the quarterfinals in the morning. "He never slowed down. I just had to try to pour in as many birdies as possible. And I was able to fortunately make a few of them.
"But he never stopped. He’s a great putter."
Beversdorf leaves Soldier Hollow with plenty of confidence and some great exposure on the national stage.
"If anything, I proved to myself that I can hang with some of the best ams in the world," he said. "It’s very exciting that some of the hard work has paid off, and there’s still more hard work to be done."
On Thursday evening after his round-of-32 and round-of-16 matches, Kevin Aylwin (@aquafina03) tweeted: Never been so exhausted, might have a nap in the shower.
After another two matches, he reiterated the sentiment, one echoed by T.J. Vogel, his opponent in the 36-hole final.
Since Monday, Aylwin has played 123 holes and Vogel has played 121 on a 7,670-yard layout that has plenty of elevation changes and many climbs and long walks from green to tee. Fatigue may be a factor during the final, although the excitement and adrenaline of competition usually takes over once the match starts.
"I don’t feel tired during the round," said Vogel, "but it really hits me right after I finish."
Sean Knapp, 50, of Oakmont, Pa., qualified for two USGA championships on consecutive days. On June 21, he qualified for the U.S. Amateur Public Links at Sinking Valley Country Club in Altoona, Pa. The next day, he made the field of the U.S. Senior Open St. Clair Country Club in Pittsburgh.
The rare feat forced Knapp to pick one championship, since both are taking place the same week.
"The choice was a tough one," said Knapp, a U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist and two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur semifinalist. "I absolutely despise giving up a USGA event."
He chose to play against his contemporaries in the Senior Open at Indianwood Golf & Country Club, in Lake Orion, Mich., where he made the cut and is tied for 36th after two rounds.
"I can honestly say that this is exactly what I anticipated," said Knapp, the low amateur at the Senior Open. "This is something different. It’s a step above. It’s like the Amateur in later, later rounds. Anticipating that, I just thought that this was the proper venue to go to. Hopefully, I made the right decision."
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. Contact him at email@example.com.