U.S. AMATEUR
Bard Prefers Underdog Role Following 2015 Runner-Up Finish August 13, 2016 | Bloomfield Township, Mich. By Stuart Hall

Derek Bard hopes to regain the same form he produced in last year's run to the championship match at Olympia Fields. (USGA/John Mummert)

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Derek Bard’s game is amiss. But recent history suggests that might be a good sign heading into this week’s 116th U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club.

“Last year, I wasn’t playing well coming into the Amateur, and then I got to Olympia Fields and something clicked,” said Bard, 21, of New Hartford, N.Y., who advanced to the championship match, losing a 7-and-6 decision to Bryson DeChambeau.

A lighter playing schedule than last summer, combined with some uneven results, also plays into Bard’s subdued approach to the week.

“I’d rather be looked at as an underdog,” said Bard, a senior at the University of Virginia. “What people think of me doesn’t really bother me, because I know I’m the quieter kid who likes to do my own thing on the course.”

Still, Bard, No. 22 in the World Amateur Golf RankingTM, will be among the marquee players in the 312-player field that begins stroke play on Monday.

Bard comes to the championship fresh off a third-place finish at the New York State Amateur Championships in Schenectady, N.Y. Bard held a one-stroke lead heading into the final 36 holes on Aug. 11 before being beset by swing issues off the tee.

Bard is well aware that Oakland Hills’ Donald Ross-designed South Course, the site of Ricky Barnes’ 2002 U.S. Amateur victory, will demand both distance and accuracy if he is to make another deep run. He also believes his game is not that far off the mark.

“My short game and putting have been fine. I just need to find something in the next few days off the tee,” he said.

Such a change, as Bard knows, can happen with little notice.

A year ago, Bard won the Sunnehanna Amateur – his biggest win to date, he claims – early in his summer scheduled. Then he tied for 50th in the Porter Cup and failed to make the 36-hole cut in the Western Amateur prior to the U.S. Amateur.

At Olympia Fields, Bard made the 64-player match play field in his second U.S. Amateur appearance by avoiding an 18-player playoff for the bracket’s final 10 spots by one stroke. Having never advanced beyond the Round of 32 in three previous USGA amateur championships, Bard quietly went about his work.

“I have always said this about Derek, he’s not overly flashy in any one particular part of his game,” said Virginia head coach Bowen Sargent. “If you look at most tour pros, people will say their games are not all that flashy. I think Derek has a game very similar to that – he drives it well, he hits his irons well, and he’s a very good putter who can be exceptionally good at times, which is what tour pros are. So, I mean that only as a compliment.”

Along Bard’s route to the championship, he defeated Jon Rahm, then No. 1 in the WAGR, 1 up. A 3-and-2 semifinal win over Kenta Konishi earned him not only a meeting with DeChambeau but also an invitation to the 2016 Masters and an exemption into June’s U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.

“The thing that helped me that week was that I was patient, probably the most I’ve ever been on a course, and nothing much bothered me,” Bard said.

Bard did, however, admit to getting a little ahead of himself.

“Coming out of the semis, when I put my head on the pillow that night, I was not thinking about the championship, but playing in the Masters and U.S. Open,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have played differently – and take nothing away from Bryson, he made the shots when he needed too – but I wish I had had a different mindset. So, I regret it still a little to this day.”

There is no remorse, though, for his major experiences.

While Bard missed the cut at both the Masters and U.S. Open, the lessons learned validated some of what Bard is already incorporating into his game.

“It was impressive,” he said. “The biggest difference is the way they manage a course. They very rarely make a big mistake and that’s because they’re so much smarter in managing a course. I like to think I’m pretty good at course management, but I learned so much from just watching and speaking with them.”

Now if Bard can just fine-tune his swing.  

“I don’t think I’m that far off,” said Bard, who took a month-long break from tournament play in July to recharge after a hectic spring and early-summer schedule that included the majors, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the NCAA Regional and National championships.

He also expects to speak with noted sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, who serves as a volunteer assistant coach for the Cavaliers, about simplifying the process.

“We’ll see. Sometimes, the change can be something small and then if you get into match play, because it can be such a crazy format, if you get a little luck, anything can happen,” said Bard.

Including an unexpected run like last year.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.

 

 

 

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