Six Rounds, Five Days, Four Semifinalists
August 21, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill.
By Stuart Hall
Six rounds of golf over five days have boiled the 115th U.S. Amateur Championship down to four semifinalists.
And if Friday at Olympia Fields Country Club’s North Course is an indication, the pressure should continue to build. Three of the four quarterfinal matches went to the 18th hole before being decided, and the fourth went to the 16th hole.
While the Havemeyer Trophy is Sunday's ultimate prize, the semifinal winners will receive exemptions into the 2016 U.S. Open (if they remain amateurs) and the 2016-18 U.S. Amateurs. Also, they likely will receive an invitation to the 2016 Masters.
Here is a look at Saturday's semifinal matches, with the player’s match-play seeding in parentheses:
8 a.m. CDT: Kenta Konishi, Japan (17) vs. Derek Bard, New Hartford, N.Y. (45)
Konishi, 21, continues to advance quietly through the match-play bracket in his first USGA championship. He defeated Matthew Perrine, 1 up, in Friday’s first quarterfinal match.
Konishi, who does not attend college in the United States and is No. 632 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ – the lowest ranking of the four semifinalists – has displayed a well-rounded game to this point.
Asked to describe the strengths of his game, Konishi was succinct.
“Nothing special,” he said through a translator. “I play all around equally. So that one, I think that is my strength. I can do everything well.”
Prior to this week’s run, the biggest win for Konishi was the 2010 Junior Open, conducted by The R&A, in Fife, Scotland.
Similar to Konishi, Derek Bard, 20, a rising junior at the University of Virginia, continues to establish himself this week.
“Surprised myself? Yeah, maybe a little bit,” said Bard, who defeated world No. 5 Hunter Stewart in Thursday’s Round of 16 and No. 1 Jon Rahm, 1 up, on Friday. “Last year I made it to Round of 32. And in that match, I remember I didn't play too well. So I was really hungry to not only get back here, but make match play and win a few matches.”
Bard’s wins, though, have not come easily. Of his 63 match-play holes to this point, he has been all square or trailed after 36 holes. By comparison, fellow semifinalist Bryson DeChambeau has been all square or trailed after just 14 holes.
Bard, who won the Sunnehanna Amateur earlier this summer, believes his putting is rounding into form.
“Actually in the first two stroke-play rounds, I didn't putt my best, but I hit it pretty solid, and that's kind of propelled me through to the match play,” said Bard, No. 51 in the WAGR. “Starting with that first match on Wednesday, my putter heated up, I started making putts and here I am.”
8:20 a.m. CDT: Bryson DeChambeau, Clovis, Calif. (23) vs. Sean Crocker, Westlake Village, Calif. (22)
Bryson DeChambeau persevered through a 3-and-2 victory against the Republic of Ireland’s Paul Dunne in what was considered the quarterfinals’ marquee match. The two could potentially meet again in next month’s Walker Cup Match.
DeChambeau, 21, a rising senior at Southern Methodist University who won the NCAA Division I individual championship, plays a deliberate and calculated game. And while driving has long been considered his strength, he credits putting for his deepest run in a USGA championship.
“My strengths are definitely my driving, hitting it in the fairway for the most part,” said DeChambeau, who is No. 7 in the WAGR and has led after 44 of the 58 holes he has played. “And this week, I’ve been incredible with my putting. It’s the best I’ve ever putted in my life, and I’m excited to see what tomorrow holds.”
That would be a date with scrappy Sean Crocker, 18, who as a freshman at the University of Southern California last year was the Pacific 12 Conference Freshman of the Year.
Like DeChambeau, Crocker is considered a long and accurate driver of the ball. However in the past two matches, his driver has gone awry.
"If I don't hit fairways tomorrow, Bryson is going to kill me,” said Crocker, who is No. 64 in the WAGR and had an early evening date with the practice range to address his driving of the ball. "He's not the type of player that you can go out of the rough hitting it to 30 feet all day, because he's going to be more or less on the fairway, on the green and super-close going for birdie."
While Crocker is the youngest of the four semifinalists, the fast-paced, no-nonsense teenager has not been intimidated by any opponent, as evidenced by his victories over 2015 Amateur Championship winner Romain Langasque, of France, and Robby Shelton, No. 8 in the WAGR.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.