It was a tough two days at the U.S. Amateur for four of the five golfers named last month by the USGA to the 10-man USA Walker Cup Team.
Max Homa, of Valencia, Calif., a recent University of California-Berkeley graduate, opened stroke-play qualifying on Monday with a disappointing 8-over 78 at The Country Club and followed with a 1-over 71 at Charles River Country Club, the companion stroke-play qualifying venue, to miss the match-play cut by five strokes.
He wasn’t alone.
Fellow Walker Cup players Cory Whitsett (72-74), Justin Thomas (75-72) and Michael Kim (81-73) also missed the 64-player cut, while Patrick Rodgers (73-71) will need to survive a 17-players-for-15-spots playoff on Wednesday morning to continue his championship run.
The Walker Cup will be contested on Sept. 7-8 at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y. The USA lost control of the Cup two years ago with its narrow defeat to Great Britain and Ireland at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland.
"On my first 10 holes (on Monday) at Brookline, I hit zero fairways, and out there that’s not good," said Homa. "Actually, that’s not good anywhere, but it’s impossible out there."
That rocky start left Homa, the 2013 NCAA Division I individual champion, at six over through 10 holes, which "really got me behind the 8-ball," he said. "If I had gotten things to go my way over the next 26 holes, I would have been in the mix."
Homa admitted that the tiny greens at The Country Club might have made him press to hit fairways.
"It might have subliminally got in there a little bit," he said, "because at one point I started hitting it 60 or 70 yards offline. I started trying to guide it. That’s what a championship course is supposed to do – it’s supposed to test you and it’s supposed to bring out your weaknesses and that was mine this week. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be great, but I didn’t expect it to go that far south that fast."
Homa was encouraged by his second round at Charles River. "I hit it a lot better today, but it’s a lot of pressure to try to shoot 6 (under), said Homa. I wasted some opportunities in the beginning – I had a 6-iron into the second hole on a par 5 and made a par; I birdied the next hole and then made a bogey with a lob wedge. It was that kind of week."
As for the Walker Cup Team showing, Homa was philosophical.
"To be honest with you, it was such a big relief getting in," said Homa. "I’ve been looking toward Walker Cup so much, this tournament just kind of slips through the cracks. You think, I’ll just breeze through… and all of a sudden you’re on the ninth tee at The Country Club and you’re shaking. It’s a lot of pressure as a Walker Cupper to come to a USGA event where you’re supposed to do well."
Homa doesn’t think the missed cuts are any reflection on how the players will perform on Long Island in September.
"I don’t think it’s a sign that any of us are not qualified," he said. "I think we still have a really strong team. It might have made it make us a little hungrier for this Walker Cup. That’s the grand prize for us and the whole USGA and United States golfers… we’ll all probably learn something from it."
And with that, Homa was headed home for some much-needed rest.
Roaring Twenties for Jade Scott
When Jade Scott stepped onto the first tee at The Country Club Tuesday afternoon, his match play prospects didn’t look too bright. After posting a 4-over 74 at Charles River Country Club on Monday, the senior at Texas A&M began his second round of stroke-play qualifying with a par on No. 9 and then proceeded to shoot a 5-over 41 on the host course’s second nine, thanks to three bogeys and a double bogey. With nothing to lose and only eight holes to play, his mindset changed.
"I got on one tee and thought, ‘All right, this is now or never,’" he recalled. "I was walking down the fairway and my caddie started to say, ‘OK, if you miss right…’ and I just said, ‘Well, we can’t afford to miss anymore, because we have to start making some birdies.’"
He did – five in seven holes, which is exactly what was needed to keep him in the championship. A par on No. 8 got him into the clubhouse at 4-over 144, and ultimately into Wednesday’s 17-for-15 playoff for the final match play spots. Given his round-opening par on No. 9 (competitors began their stroke-play rounds at The Country Club on holes 1 and 9), he carded a 29 on the host course’s outward nine.
"I didn’t really miss a shot on that nine," Scott said. "I hit my targets and was putting it really well; it was the first time my speeds have been right all week."
Anthony Maccaglia entered the scoring tent Tuesday after his round and received a small business card from the volunteer official.
"Contact him," the official said. "You’ll get to keep the flag."
The flag in question was from the par-3, 182-yard 16th hole, where the 20-year-old from Tampa, Fla., used a 5-iron to record the first known ace in a USGA championship at The Country Club.
The junior at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University teed off at the ninth hole, making three pars before hitting a rough stretch that saw him go five over par from Nos. 12-15. He admitted to losing focus as he approached the 16th tee.
"I didn’t really pay attention much to it because I was five over the last four holes," said Maccaglia. "So, I just kind of got up there and hit it and started walking after it. It was right on line – you couldn’t see the bottom of the hole – but it was a good shot. And then five or six people started clapping – they got real loud – so I knew what happened."
This is Maccaglia’s second competitive hole-in-one. The first was in October 2011 at The Raven in Sandestin, Fla.
The ace was a bright spot in a lackluster day that included two birdies, five bogeys, a double bogey and a triple bogey. Maccaglia posted rounds of 70-76 to miss the match-play cut by two strokes. His enthusiasm from No. 16 waned as he realized he wouldn’t see his name in Wednesday’s bracket.
"It’s an awesome memory," he said with a shrug. "Not much more than that."
Defending Champ Fox Headed Home
Steven Fox, who enjoyed a magical week in 2012 at Cherry Hills outside of Denver en route to winning the Havemeyer Trophy, saw his goal of making match play slip away on his final six holes at Charles River, when he made four bogeys and a double bogey to miss the playoff by two strokes.
"I played well on the front and in the beginning of the back, and the swing fell apart," said Fox, a recent University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate. "I was never comfortable with any shots and it just kind of unfolded. My alignment felt terrible and it’s something that needs to be worked on."
Fox made the turn at two under for his round and even par overall. On his 11th hole, No. 2, he reached the 508-yard par 5 in two and proceeded to three-putt. He made just two more pars over his final seven holes as his Amateur defense ended.
"I had a lot of three-putts," Fox said. "I knew I was still in a good position (after No. 2), but nothing felt good."
Peter Uihlein was the last Amateur champion to make match play after winning the title, in 2011 at Erin Hills, where he lost in the quarterfinals.
It’s a Small World
The name of the championship may be the U.S. Amateur, but the leader board is a global potpourri of talented players. The 66 players who are either into match play or in a playoff for the last two spots represent 11 foreign nationalities, and you have to scroll down to sixth place before seeing an American player.
England has five players still alive for the championship – a promising sign in a Walker Cup year. The group includes Matt Fitzpatrick, the low amateur at last month’s British Open.
Other well-established golf countries such as Canada (four players) and Australia (three players) are not particularly surprising to see, however, the scope of the geographic mix extends much farther afield. Austria, Denmark, Finland, Mexico and Malaysia each have a player remaining in the field, bringing hope to these proud sporting nations.
The next five days will provide outstanding match play drama at The Country Club, and a subtext is whether the player hoisting the Havemeyer Trophy will have an American passport or one that needed a stamp to compete at Brookline.
Then There Were Three
A total of 28 mid-amateurs (25 and older) were among the 312 players who started play at this week’s U.S. Amateur, but only three remains after 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying. And two of them will face off in the first round of match play on Wednesday. Neil Raymond, 27, of England, shared medalist honors at 6-under 134 with Brady Watt, while Jason Anthony, 30, of Fairfield, Calif., earned the final match-play spot in a 17-for-15 playoff on Wednesday. Anthony, a vice president of business development, made a par on the second playoff hole to eliminate Jade Scott and Jordan Smith.
Andrew Price, 31, of Lake Bluff, Ill., is the oldest player left. The insurance agent and 2005 Kansas graduate will meet Nathan Holman, of Australia.
Raymond, however, isn’t your typical mid-amateur golfer. He spent a few years working at a golf course after high school and recently has focused his full attention to competitive golf. He plans to turn professional in September after what he hopes is a Walker Cup berth for Great Britain and Ireland.
The last mid-amateur to win the U.S. Amateur was John Harris 20 years ago at Champions Golf Club in Houston.
USGA staff members David Shefter, Ron Driscoll, Scott Lipsky and Greg Midland contributed to this notebook, along with Stephanie Breslof, the USGA’s summer online/editorial intern.