THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Will Grimmer is making his second U.S. Junior Amateur Championship appearance, and this time he brought a unique perspective.
Armed with the fact he played in last month’s U.S. Open, Grimmer hopes to parlay that experience into a title at this week’s U.S. Junior at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course.
Last year, I played the U.S. Junior Amateur, but I didn’t realize how everything here is exactly like the U.S. Open, said Grimmer, 17, of Cincinnati, Ohio, who was ousted in last year’s match play round of 64. I don’t think players here appreciate how this is literally like a U.S. Open setup, from the way it’s conducted to the locker room to the player hospitality to how the course is maintained.
So I didn’t fully appreciate last year until I played at Pinehurst this year. So, it’s awesome to get to do this and I’m thrilled to make match play again this year. I’m playing really well, so I’ll see how far I can go.
Thanks to a second-round, 5-under-par 67 on Tuesday, Grimmer tied for third in stroke play, one shot back of co-medalists Sean Crocker and Sam Horsfield. Grimmer earned the No. 4 seed in match play and faced Justin Conant, a fellow Ohio native from Westerville, in Wednesday’s opening round.
Grimmer, a Mariemont High School senior who has committed to Ohio State University, admits he was a bit in awe at last year’s U.S. Junior at Martis Camp Club in Truckee, Calif.
I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ said Grimmer, who had not played in many high-level tournaments like several of his fellow competitors.
This year, only Grimmer and fellow competitor Andy Zhang (2012, Olympic Club) can say they have teed it up in a U.S. Open. Grimmer punched his ticket to Pinehurst by shooting a 5-under-par 135 and finishing second at the sectional qualifier at Springfield Country Club in Springfield, Ohio, on June 2.
Grimmer no doubt wanted to play well at Pinehurst No. 2, but he also did not want to go through the week wearing blinders, so focused on golf that he missed out on the trappings of playing on golf’s biggest stage.
I found a happy medium, he said.
Grimmer played practice rounds with Rickie Fowler, Kenny Perry and 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, and also had cordial conversations with Matt Kuchar and several other players.
He shot 77-80—157 and missed the cut, but there was a lifetime of takeaways. The best, though, came in the opening round.
Grimmer made his U.S. Open debut on No. 2’s second nine and went out with a 7-over 42, carding four consecutive bogeys to close his outward nine.
Then the fun began.
Grimmer rattled off three successive birdies on hole Nos. 1-3, playing in the jetstream of Fowler and Jordan Spieth four groupings ahead, and Rose and Phil Mickelson two groupings ahead of them. The birdies helped him achieve his goal of breaking 80.
The crowds were just enormous and that was probably the coolest stretch for me, Grimmer said. And hearing the crowd go, ‘Go get ’em Will’ and hearing the ‘Go Bucks,’ because I committed to Ohio State, so that just cool.
Grimmer also came away with a belief that while he still needs to improve his game, his game is good enough to be competitive at this level.
In the weeks since playing the U.S. Open, Grimmer finished 24th at the Western Junior Amateur in Flossmoor, Ill.; 32nd at the AJGA’s Rolex Tournament of Championship in Nashville, Tenn.; and second to Andrew Dorn, who also qualified for the U.S. Open, at the Ohio Amateur Championship.
Coming down here this week, my expectations were that I can contend and win this, Grimmer said. You can’t win it in stroke play, but I put myself in a good position to make match play. Now I’m just looking to keep playing well and keep doing what I’ve been doing and hopefully I can bring home a title on Saturday.
Wonder how that would compare to three consecutive birdies at Pinehurst No. 2 during the U.S. Open? Only Grimmer would know.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.