U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Round of 64: Five Matches to Watch July 20, 2016 | Ooltewah, Tenn. By David Shefter, USGA

Joaquin Niemann, of Chile, came into this week's championship as the highest-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

U.S. Junior Amateur Home

After two days of stroke play at The Honors Course, the field of the 69th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship has been whittled from 156 to 64. Now, it’s time for the remaining competitors to switch their focus to match play. Six rounds will eventually produce the 2016 champion who will add his name to the list that includes the likes of David Duval, Johnny Miller, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. Here are five intriguing matchups for Wednesday’s Round of 64:

Travis Vick vs. Patrick Welch (10:45 a.m. EDT)

Some players talk about a medalist curse in USGA championships. Only two U.S. Junior medalists since have won the championship since 2000 – Matthew Rosenfeld (2000) and Jordan Spieth (2009) – so Travis Vick will try to turn the tide. Vick, 16, of Houston, Texas, carded a course-record 64 on Monday before settling for an even-par 72 the following day to earn medalist honors by three strokes. He called it a great honor to be the No. 1 match-play seed and is motivated to go out and play well. He lost in the Round of 64 last year at Colleton River Plantation Club to Trent Phillips. Patrick Welch, 16, of Providence, R.I., will look to knock out the medalist in the Round of 64 for the first time in 14 years. Tarik Can, in 2002, is the last medalist (he shared the honor that year with Jarred Texter) to fail to win his first-round match. Welch, who plays with a cross-handed grip, won the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club two years ago in the Boys’ 14-15 Division.

Joaquin Niemann vs. Tommy Kuhl (8:45 a.m.)

Niemann, 17, of Chile, came into the championship as the highest-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR) at No. 11. He’s also fresh off a victory in last week’s IMG Academy World Junior Championship at Torrey Pines’ South Course. He shot rounds of 73-69 to finish tied for eighth in stroke play at 2-under 142. Kuhl, 16, of Morton, Ill., is the second member of his family to play in the U.S. Junior, following his 18-year-old brother, Pete, who competed last year, but did not qualify for match play. The Kuhl brothers will soon be Big Ten rivals as Pete will be a freshman at the University of Wisconsin and Tommy plans to enroll at the University of Illinois in the fall of 2018. The two led Morton High to consecutive Illinois 2A state titles in 2014 and 2015.

Joe Highsmith vs. Andrew Orischak (9:55 a.m.)

Orischak, 17, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., had a tremendous run to the championship match last year just across the bridge from his hometown, and he’s hoping to hoist the trophy this year. Two players – Mason Rudolph and Tim Straub – have won the U.S. Junior Amateur a year after losing in the championship match. Orischak, who has signed to play at the University of Virginia beginning this fall, carded rounds of 75-73 in stroke play. Highsmith, 16, of Lakewood, Wash., hopes to go further than his Round-of-64 exit last year to 2012 U.S. Open qualifier Andy Zhang. Highsmith, a left-hander, helped Bellarmine Prep to its second consecutive Washington state title this year.

Wells Padgett vs. Davis Shore (11:05 a.m.)

Both of these players will be looking to improve on their Round-of-64 exits last year. Shore, 17, of Knoxville, Tenn., certainly will have a local following as he lives 90 minutes from The Honors Course. Shore, who plans to play at the University of Alabama in 2017 and is the only remaining player from the three Volunteer State competitors this week, carded rounds of 75-72 in stroke play. Padgett, 17, of Wichita, Kan., won his state high school championship this past season. He carded rounds of 74-73 in stroke play.

Austin Eckroat vs. Brandon Mancheno (12:05 p.m.)

Mancheno, 16, of Jacksonville, Fla., was the medalist in last year’s championship and advanced to the Round of 32. The left-hander didn’t produce the same low scores at The Honors Course (73-75), but nevertheless qualified for match play as the No. 42 seed. Mancheno attended a virtual high school the past two years, but will be going to a regular high school this year. He plans to attend Auburn University in the fall of 2017. Eckroat, 17, of Edmond, Okla., is playing in his first U.S. Junior Amateur, although he missed the match-play cut in the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. In 2014, he won the Oklahoma 6A state title, becoming the only freshman in 6A Class history to achieve the feat. In April, Eckroat went wire to wire in claiming the prestigious Junior Invitational at Sage Valley. He plans to attend Oklahoma State University in the fall of 2017.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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