U.S. AMATEUR
Midday Report: Comings and Goings at Olympia Fields August 20, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill. By Dave Shedloski

The action continues at Olympia Fields on Thursday afternoon after an action-packed Round of 32. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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The Round of 32 is in the books at the U.S. Amateur and the Round of 16 is underway on the challenging North Course at Olympia Fields. The winds are swirling and the temperatures and low humidity make it feel like an early-fall day. Here are some observations from a double-round Thursday.

Hunter Stewart is a tough competitor. The Vanderbilt University All-American hurdled over one wall only to run into another.

“No match is going to be easy, but I’m playing some really good players,” said Stewart, the USA Walker Cup player, whose reward for two tough wins so far at Olympia Fields is a Round of 16 showdown Thursday afternoon against Sunnehanna Amateur champion Derek Bard.

Two down after eight holes, Stewart, ,won four of the last six to eliminate 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Will Zalatoris, 3 and 1, in one of the more closely watched matches Thursday morning. On Wednesday, Stewart drew fellow Walker Cupper Lee McCoy and pulled out a 3-and-2 decision.

Thursday’s proceedings turned at the par-4 12th hole when Zalatoris three-putted from 35 feet while Stewart got down in two from a similar distance. The change in momentum was enough to help push Stewart through to the third round, where he will meet Bard, of New Hartford, N.Y., who beat Sepp Straka, 6 and 5, earlier in the day.

“It’s going to take some good stuff to win again,” Stewart said. “He got off the course early and I’ve had to go a few holes, plus I had the playoff yesterday. I’ve played a lot of golf, but if that’s what it takes then I’ve got to be ready.”

Bard’s victory was among several blowouts in the 16 matches contested Thursday morning, but it wasn’t the biggest. That belonged to Spain’s John Rahm, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, who took care of a struggling Cameron Young, 7 and 6. Young, of Scarborough, N.Y., had knocked out defending champion Gunn Yang in the opening round.

Two other United States Walker Cup players won big. Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis, Calif., the NCAA Division I individual champion, dispatched Matt NeSmith of North Augusta, S.C., 5 and 4. By an identical margin, Maverick McNealy of Portola Valley, Calif., the Jack Nicklaus Award winner as the top collegiate player in Division I, defeated Maverick Antcliff of Augusta, Ga.

So did some players who are in the Walker Cup mix. Ireland’s Paul Dunne, in the running for a Walker Cup slot for Great Britain & Ireland after his performance in The Open Championship at St. Andrews, advanced to the third round later today by handling Caleb Proveaux, of Lexington, S.C., 3 and 2.

In another result that had Walker Cup overtones, Robby Shelton, of Wilmer, Ala., the 2014 NCAA champion, defeated Will Grimmer, of Cincinnati, 3 and 2. Shelton, 19, who finished T-3 in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship last month, was among the players invited to the Walker Cup practice earlier this summer.

The No. 64 seed is one to watch. Kyle Mueller, the last man to survive the 18-man playoff for 10 match,play spots on Tuesday morning, won for the second time on the 18th green, beating Alex Burge of Bloomington, Ill., 2 up. Mueller, 19, of Watkinsville, Ga., had beaten medalist Brett Coletta of Australia, 1 up, in the first round.

“It was a sloppy match, but I’m through,” said Mueller, who closed out Burge with a 50-foot birdie putt on the last hole. “I’m going to the range to figure some things out. I’m driving it OK, but I’m struggling with my distance control with my irons in the wind.”

There are some great matchups this afternoon. A key match to watch Thursday afternoon, in addition to Stewart vs. Bard, is the second faceoff of the championship between Walker Cup teammates, as Californians McNealy and DeChambeau meet. Another features Rahm against Daniel Wetterich of Cincinnati, who upset England’s Sam Horsfield, 2 and 1. Wetterich, whose cousin is PGA Tour player Brett Wetterich, is playing in his first USGA championship.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites.