U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Round-of-32 Digest: Lyerly Takes Out Top-Ranked Foe; Lee's Late Arrival; Gillis on Fire July 21, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn. By Stuart Hall and David Shefter

With confidence from his recent North Carolina Amateur win, Nicholas Lyerly has reached the Round of 16 at The Honors Course. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

U.S. Junior Amateur Home

The gist of what Nicholas Lyerly knew about Joaquin Niemann, his Round-of-32 opponent in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship on Thursday morning at The Honors Course, was that the Chilean is No. 9 in the latest World Amateur Golf Ranking™. 

He was keenly aware, though, of what was necessary to defeat Niemann.

“Yeah, I knew I was going to have to play good if I was going to win,” said Lyerly, 17, of Salisbury, N.C. 

Lyerly played well enough, conceding that Niemann did not have his best day, in a 4-and-3 victory to advance to Thursday afternoon’s Round of 16  against ninth-seeded Noah Goodwin, of Corinth, Texas, who is No. 35 in the WAGR.

“To beat a top-10-ranked player is a great accomplishment for me, because now I know I can compete at that level,” said Lyerly, who is No. 3,457, but whose game – and name – are on an upward trajectory.

In June, Lyerly was the best in a stout North Carolina Amateur field that included Scott Harvey, the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and 2015 USA Walker Cup Team member.

“Whew, yeah, that was my biggest win by far and it really boosted my confidence level. That’s when I knew I could play at a higher level," said Lyerly, who up until then considered his 2015 N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A individual title as his most noteworthy victory.

Earlier this month, Lyerly also tied for second in the North & South Junior Championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 8.

Lyerly said his rise is the product of building on the previous summer’s improvement.

“Consistency,” he said of this summer’s main emphasis. “I’ve probably putted a little better this summer than in years past and that’s what has allowed me to shoot a little lower scores.”

Despite a loss-of-hole penalty for being late to the first tee, Fred Lee prevailed in his Round-of-32 match on Thursday. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

Late But Not Out

Fred Lee felt he didn’t get enough out of his warm-up session prior to Wednesday’s Round-of-64 match in which he needed 19 holes to eliminate Nicolas Cassidy. So Lee, 16, of Australia, took a little more time on Thursday morning to prepare.

A little too much time as it turned out.

Lee arrived at the first tee 20 seconds past his scheduled 7:40 a.m. EDT starting time. He wasn’t disqualified, but before striking a shot against Wocheng (Aden) Ye, of the People’s Republic of China, Lee was 1 down (Rule 6-3a). Fortunately, his tardiness didn’t cost him a spot in the next round, as he rallied for a 3-and-2 victory to set up a Round-of-16 match on Thursday afternoon against medalist Travis Vick.

“I felt really good on the range and on the [practice] green,” said Lee, who is No. 117 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ and was exempt into the championship based on being among the top 400 points leaders in the WAGR. “I should have sprinted a little faster. I almost got there.”

Lee didn’t let his mental mistake affect him on the course.

“I was confident in my game,” he said. “The extra practice … definitely did help.”

Finishing off his round on the 16th green gave Lee, who was born in Manhasset, N.Y., but moved to Australia when he was 2 months old, a little rest between matches.

“I hopefully will be able to get a little rest and not be late to my next tee time.”

Gillis Turning up the Heat

As the snow accumulates in Brandon Gillis’ hometown of Nashua, N.H., each winter, he does not bemoan the loss of practice time.

“Maybe I don’t get to practice as much in the winter as I would like, but I think it’s also good to have that time off to looking forward to it coming spring time,” said Gillis, 17. “It gets you fired up a little bit.”

And when he can feel the grass beneath his feet in late March or early April, he knows it’s go time.

There’s certainly a fire burning in his belly this week at the U.S. Junior Amateur. As the championship whittled its field down to 16 Thursday morning at The Honors Course, Gillis was one of the few players remaining who call the North home.

He defeated Kyle Robinson, of Fayetteville, Ark., 5 and 3 in the second round of his second U.S. Junior Amateur appearance. A year ago, Gillis failed to advance to match play.

"I started off really well today, hit it really great on the first few holes and started birdie, eagle,” said Gillis, who won the fourth hole for a 3-up lead. He never held less than a 2-up lead the remainder of the round. 

In the opening round, Gillis was 1 down to Brendan Gonzalez after two holes. He won five of the next six holes en route to a 6-and-5 victory. 

“I’m feeling really comfortable,” he said. "I like the way I’m hitting the ball, for sure. My goal each match is to get off to a great start and then keep making pars."

Gillis has followed his script nicely. In 28 holes through two rounds, given the usual match play concessions, he has totaled an eagle and seven birdies against three bogeys. 

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites. David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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