THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Looking at the bracket two days ago at the start of the round of 64, it would have been difficult to draw up a more intriguing matchup for the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship final than the one that has transpired naturally here at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course: Davis Riley, of Hattiesburg, Miss., vs. William Zalatoris, of Plano, Texas.
The two 17-year-olds, good friends and each in their last year of eligibility for this championship, survived a thrilling but exhausting run through the quarterfinals and semifinals on Friday and will have the opportunity to hoist a trophy that has eluded them for many years.
Zalatoris has the edge in experience, as he is playing in his fifth U.S. Junior Amateur, which ties a record for the most appearances. He is attempting to become the seventh Texan since 1999 to win this championship, and has been supremely comfortable all week with the demands of the course and the heat.
He also has done an admirable job of sticking to his game plan during match play, which served him well during his 1-up semifinal defeat of Curtis Luck, of Australia. Zalatoris looked to be in control of the match, leading 3 up through 13, before Luck went on a roll to tighten things up.
Even when he won three in a row, 14-16, and then his putt [from the fringe] should have gone in on 17 when it hit the flagstick, I just stayed patient and I knew exactly what I needed to do, said Zalatoris. Like I’ve said all week, my ball-striking has held up as well as it has all year.
It was a fun day today. This is what you live for, being under the gauntlet. It was a lot of fun.
If tomorrow’s 36-hole final, which gets underway at 8 a.m. CDT, will also end up being fun for Zalatoris, he will have to get past a talented and motivated opponent in Riley.
Riley, who lost the 2013 U.S. Junior Amateur final to Scottie Scheffler, has made no secret this week about wanting to avenge that stinging defeat. He is attempting to become the first player since Tim Straub in 1982-83 to lose a U.S. Junior Amateur final and then win it the following year.
For a while it looked as if Riley would be denied that chance. He won the first hole to take a quick 1-up lead over his semifinal opponent, Sam Horsfield, of England, but his cushion was short-lived. Horsfield won the second hole to square the match and then, from the fourth through the 15th holes, Horsfield led Riley by either a 1-up or 2-up margin.
Riley squared the match with a birdie on the par-4 16th, and after that the two players limped to the finish. Riley had a 3-footer for par on 18 that would have won the match, but the putt slid by and the match went to extra holes.
I just told myself there was nothing I can do about that putt now, so I might as well just shake it off and go to the next hole, said Riley.
He had to shake off another miss, a 4-footer for par on the second hole (20th of the match), that also would have clinched the victory, before finally converting a 3-footer on the 21st hole to eliminate Horsfield.
Tomorrow, I just need to play consistent, keep the ball in front of me, and make a lot of birdies, said Riley. It’s going to be a tough match, because anybody who gets this far is playing well. But you just have to go out there and try to get the win.
By virtue of making it to the U.S. Junior final, Riley did meet the first of his goals – gaining entry to next month’s U.S. Amateur Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga. He attempted to qualify a few weeks ago but missed out by three strokes, and now is assured a place in the field.
But before he starts thinking ahead to future USGA championships, he will be focused on the one that is nearly in his grasp yet again.
Live scoring for the final match will be available on usga.org, and live on-course updates will be posted at www.twitter.com/usga.
Greg Midland is the USGA’s director of editorial and multimedia content. Email him at email@example.com.
67TH U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP
THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Results from Friday morning’s quarterfinal round at the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course (7,156 yards, par 72):
William Zalatoris, Plano, Texas (140) def. Sean Crocker, Zimbabwe (137), 3 and 2
Curtis Luck, Australia (141) def. Will Grimmer, Cincinnati, Ohio (138), 2 up
Sam Horsfield, England (137) def. Andreas Halvorsen, Norway (148), 1 up
Davis Riley, Hattiesburg, Miss. (138) def. Andy Zhang, People’s Republic of China (143), 2 up
THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Results from Friday afternoon’s semifinal round at the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course (7,156 yards, par 72):
William Zalatoris, Plano, Texas (140) def. Curtis Luck, Australia (141), 1 up
Davis Riley, Hattiesburg, Miss. (138) def. Sam Horsfield, England, 21 holes
THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Pairings for Saturday’s 36-hole final match at the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course (Central Daylight Time):
8 a.m. William Zalatoris, Plano, Texas (140) vs. Davis Riley, Hattiesburg, Miss. (138)