U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Notebook: Heat On for Norwegian Duo; Record Day for Eaton July 22, 2015 | Bluffton, S.C. By David Shefter, Joey Flyntz and Stuart Hall

The toughest part of the week for Norway's Kristoffer Reitan has been dealing with the stifling heat and humidity. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

The temperature in Oslo, Norway, on Wednesday reached a balmy 71 degrees with 47 percent humidity. At Colleton River Plantation Club, where the 68th U.S. Junior Championship is being conducted on the Dye Course, the mercury hit the mid-90s, with the heat index reaching triple digits for a second consecutive day.

“This is too hot for us,” said Kristoffer Reitan, one of two Norwegians in the field this week. “We’ve got towels in our bags just to stay dry. It’s kind of like playing in the rain. You’ve got to keep everything dry. It’s tough.”

Added compatriot Viktor Hovland: “This is unreal. Sweat is pouring down on me.”

Despite the oppressive conditions, both teenagers have adjusted quite nicely. Hovland, 17, posted rounds of 68-71 to finish second in stroke play, one shot behind medalist Brandon Mancheno. Reitan, 16, carded a pair of even-par 72s to easily advance to match play.

Both golfers are veterans of competition, but neither of the two has competed much in the U.S., and certainly never in this kind of heat and humidity. They each played the American Junior Golf Association’s Thunderbird Invitational on Memorial Day weekend in Scottsdale, Ariz., but that was in drier conditions.

Last week, they were in Finland, where temperatures sat comfortably in the 70s, competing in the European Boys Team Championship. Reitan won the individual stroke-play event by two strokes, shooting 68-65. They helped Norway earn a bronze medal out of 16 teams.

This, however, is their first U.S. Junior Amateur. They automatically qualified by being inside the top 400 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ as of the June 3 deadline. Last year at The Club at Carlton Woods, compatriot Andreas Halvorsen advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Sam Horsfield, 1 down.

“We play a lot of international tournaments,” said Reitan, who also has played in the British Boys Championship twice. “This one was one of the most prestigious events in the world. That’s why we play here.”

Golf in Norway doesn’t have the same pedigree as Nordic skiing – cross country and ski jumping – where elite athletes are feted like football, baseball and basketball stars are in the U.S. Hovland said there are 30 18-hole courses and several more nine-hole layouts. Currently, one Norwegian (Espen Kofstad) competes on the European Tour, while neighboring countries Sweden and Finland have produced multiple champions, the most notable being Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson.

 Of course, Suzann Pettersen has enjoyed huge success on the LPGA Tour, winning 22 worldwide events, including the 2007 LPGA Championship.

“We’re right beside them, so it’s kind of shocking we don’t have any people up there,” said Hovland of Norwegian golf.

Hovland added that Norwegian juniors have enjoyed amateur success, but it hasn’t translated to the professional game.

“That’s a good question,” said Hovland. “The [Norwegian Golf] Federation talks about that all the time. We’ve always been good on the junior side. We have lots of medals in the European Boys Team Championship. Suzann is different. She’s very determined and has been her whole life.”

Hovland and Reitan could be the next Norwegian male stars. Both plan to attend college in the U.S. – Hovland in 2016 and Reitan in 2017 – and then pursue professional careers. Doing so in Norway is tough, given the six-month golf season. Reitain said during the winter months, he’ll practice indoors hitting balls into nets.

Over Christmas break, Reitan and Hovland come to Florida to play in the South Beach Amateur. Reitan also has competed in the prestigious Doral Publix, an event that draws an international field.

This week, the two flew from Finland together. Reitan’s family came as well, while Hovland is by himself.

“We’re having a good time,” said Hovland.

Both were looking forward to match play, a format in which they have extensive experience. Reitan registered 4.5 out of a possible 6 points in last week’s European team event, where they played foursomes and singles. Hovland likes the fact he can be more aggressive in match play.

“I usually get a little tensed up [in stroke play],” said Hovland. “I don’t think about birdies. I think about not making mistakes. In match play, you just go for everything.”

Chandler Eaton needed a great second round to make match play and he posted a course-record 65. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

Eaton Sets Course Record

Chandler Eaton easily qualified for match play in the 68th U.S. Junior Amateur with an even-par score of 144. The way he got to even par was anything but easy.

Eaton, 17, of Alpharetta, Ga., shot 7-over 79 in Monday’s first round. At 1 under par midway through his sixth hole in Tuesday’s second round, a second weather delay forced him to complete the round on Wednesday with plenty work remaining to make match play.

He didn’t sleep well Tuesday night, which may have been a blessing. Eaton resumed play on the 15th fairway and quickly made birdie. And then it was off to the races. Eaton went on to make nine birdies and two bogeys to post a course-record 7-under 65, breaking Mark Muscatell’s previous mark of 66 in a 2012 U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier. Eaton’s 65 tied for the third-lowest stroke-play round in U.S. Junior history.

"It was good conditions. The greens were soft and it wasn't as windy as it would be in the afternoon,” said Eaton. “I woke up not feeling great, and I think that helped me. It kind of put me in the attitude of 'Don't worry about, just go out and play.' I just went out and played like I normally do."

Eaton credited a hot putter for his exceptional round.

"I just tried to hit greens, and the way it ended up, I was able to make putts,” said Eaton, who fell to Logan Lowe, 6 and 4, in the Round of 64 later on Wednesday. “Honestly, I was just trying to make par on every hole, but I was sinking all my putts."

Strong qualifying fields had made qualifying for the Junior difficult for Eaton. But his first appearance was definitely memorable.

Playoff? Did you say another playoff?

Jack Li, 17, of the Republic of Korea, did not flinch when he saw that his 6-over 150 score got him into an 8-for-5 playoff for the final match-play slots in the U.S. Junior Amateur. 

“This is already my fifth one this year,” said Li, whose family moved to the United States five years ago and now lives in Temecula, Calif. “I played four [playoffs] already during high school and got through them all."

Wednesday morning was no different.

With a par on the first playoff hole, the 428-yard, par-4 12th at Colleton River Plantation Club’s Dye Course, Li earned the 64th and final spot in match play.

“No, I wasn’t really nervous,” said Li, who drew medalist Brandon Mancheno, of Jacksonville, Fla., in the Round of 64 later on Wednesday. 

Li had no reason for jitters after what he put himself through in the second round.

After posting a 4-over 76 in Monday’s first round, Li bogeyed the par-4 first hole. He then birdied the par-5 second and par-4 fourth holes, the latter coming just minutes before the first of two weather suspensions.

Following the second suspension, Li made four pars before a three-putt bogey on No. 9 and a par on No. 10, his last when play was called for the day – 7  hours, 12 minutes after he started the round.

He resumed his second round at 7:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, but "lost some fuel this morning,” he said of making three more bogeys, the last being a three-putt on the par-3 17th.

“At that point, I go to 18 just saying, ‘Give yourself a shot,” said Li, who was a stroke shy of making a playoff in the 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur at the Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H.

Li split the 18th fairway with his tee shot, then hit his 205-yard, 5-iron approach to 40 feet above the flagstick.

“I had a slider, double-breaker, downhill putt, and I said 'I’ve got to make this,' so I did. It was pretty clutch,” Li said. 

The playoff? For Li, it was nothing new.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.  Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org. Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.