JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — As Frederick Wedel made his way from a 19th-hole defeat in his U.S. Amateur Championship semifinal match on Saturday, he politely shook any hand offered to him and offered a barely audible Thank you.
Surely he made his father proud.
Wedel’s goal to advance to Sunday’s final and earn an exemption into next year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, a course Wedel came to love after a collegiate event this spring, was derailed by Gunn Yang, who prevailed with a birdie on the 19th hole.
It’s a special moment right now, and it’s definitely something we will be able to share, but I really cannot put it in any type of perspective right now, said Wedel, 19, of The Woodlands, Texas.
During his post-round media session, Wedel graciously attempted to explain how his 1-up lead on the 11th hole dissolved into the loss, but not before he hit a heroic approach over water on the 18th hole to extend the match.
His father certainly is proud.
For nearly 10 years, Wedel has been without the father who let his son tag along to the course, who cut down a 7-iron for his son to start hitting balls, who taught his son that principles sometimes trump pars and walked him off the course after a temper tantrum.
The father, also named Frederick Wedel, 74, was as passionate about golf as his son is until an itch on the back of his neck developed into a staph infection in his spinal cord and eventually paralyzed him from the neck down.
The younger Wedel was 10. He was not prepared for a new life with his father and the ordeal split his family apart. Wedel described periods of the ensuing few years as dark.
He was kicked out of private school in the eighth grade. He was trying to find his way and eventually ended up at Pepperdine University, nearly six hours down the coast from Sacramento where his father lives.
He wasn’t there all the time — and he can’t be, which I understand. But I feel like I have to make the effort. He is my dad, said Wedel, who earlier this summer spent a week in Sacramento with him.
I felt like I needed to pursue that relationship. He’s done a lot of great things to raise me well and I look up to him for. But there are other things that I might ask my buddies or my coaches or another father figure because they’re right there in my everyday life. I want to be able to ask my father those things too, so that’s why I decided to make the effort.
Surely his father is proud that he did.
Architect Jones Walks Familiar Ground
Famed golf course architect Rees Jones hadn't attended a U.S. Amateur since 2002 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., but he wasn't about to miss the 114th championship this week at Atlanta Athletic Club, a place where he has invested considerable time over the last 20 years.
"You're talking about one of the great clubs in America, a place that's near and dear to my heart," said Jones, whose father, Robert Trent Jones, was the original designer of AAC's two courses, Highlands and Riverside. "It's a very progressive club. The membership knows its history and yet understands that there are always things that must be done going forward to keep it current."
The younger Jones, who has taken over his father's longtime role in renovating a number of U.S. Open courses, has meticulously upgraded his father’s work at AAC, starting in 1994, 30 years after the courses opened. His latest work on the Highlands Course was in 2009, in preparation for the 2011 PGA Championship won by Keegan Bradley.
Jones, 73, was impressed with the condition of both courses during his visit and applauded the USGA’s setup of the Highlands Course for match play. He hoped that one day AAC might be considered for a U.S. Open, but in the meantime he enjoyed his stopover to watch the amateurs compete. Jones walked nearly the entire 18 holes, looking in on the four quarterfinal matches.
"The golf course couldn't be playing any better. It is a proper test for those talented young players," Jones said. "The green speeds were perfect and there was a nice ebb and flow to the way it was set up. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do for the final. I imagine you'll see some more pins tucked in the back or closer to the water to bring more risk into play, make them think more. It should be a great showcase for the club."
McCarthy Relishes Match-Play Breakthrough
In five previous appearances in the U.S. Amateur, Denny McCarthy had never advanced beyond the opening round of match play, and last year the University of Virginia standout failed to make the top 64.
But something clicked for the Rockville, Md., resident this week in the 114th championship as McCarthy advanced to the semifinals at AAC before falling to Corey Conners, 1 up, on Saturday morning. The short story is this: he got on a roll.
"When I start winning matches and play the way I'm capable of playing, I just carry so much momentum with me into my next round of play, and I just feel really comfortable with myself," McCarthy, 21, said after his disappointing setback to Conners. "I still felt comfortable today. I just felt like if I could have made a few more putts early or anywhere, really; I didn't really make anything, so I thought if I could have ... usually my game feeds off my putter, and I just couldn't make anything to get me going.
A semifinalist in the U.S. Junior in 2010, McCarthy said
competing in the Maryland Amateur boosted his match-play confidence, a
difference maker because his game wasn't much different from past U.S. Amateur
"I've had experience playing the Maryland Amateurs the last two years. I've been pretty successful in that. So I think that's helped me match-play wise. I don't think anything changed," he said.
And he hopes nothing changes entering his senior season for the Cavaliers. "I'm just going to go enjoy my last year of school," McCarthy said. "Probably going to head down there in the next couple days, and just see what this college season brings me. I've obviously got some good momentum coming off the U.S. Am, and I look forward to a great college season, and I'm looking forward to having fun my last year in school."
Varied Course Setup Lowers Comfort Level
The U.S. Amateur is as much a mental test as it is a physical one, and part of that test is being able to adjust to the variations in the setup of the course.
Case in point was the setup of Atlanta Athletic Club during Saturday's semifinals, particularly on the two par-3 holes on the inward nine of the Highlands Course.
The players found the teeing areas on unfamiliar ground, with the par-3 15th playing just 170 yards, one day after it was set up at 221 yards. The difficult 17th with a carry over water was pushed back to 212 yards, the longest it had played all week. Two days earlier a forward tee was used, making the hole a mere 144 yards.
"The plan all along was that we've got so many teeing grounds with the par 3s, why not try all the yardages out? Let's give them a different look every time they step on the tee," said the USGA's Ben Kimball, director of the U.S. Amateur Championship. "We don't ever want them to feel comfortable with knowing what shot they are going to hit when they walk to that next tee. We want to make them have to think and not just automatically know what they are going to have in front of them."
Kimball, who also is in charge of setup at the U.S. Women's Open, said that Sunday's finalists, Corey Conners and Gunn Yang, are likely to see more of the same.
"If they're playing close attention, we generally ... or, I generally show them my hand before I do something again," Kimball said. "They can't ever say we threw this huge curveball at them. We give them a little taste of what they might also see tomorrow [Sunday] in the final.
"But, look, that is one of the great features of this course is that they've got great range," Kimball added. "You not only have variation of distance but also different angles, like you see at No. 7. Why not try them all out? Why not mix it up? That's what you are likely to see tomorrow, too, and it will be interesting to see how the players respond."
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites. Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites.