U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Highsmith Keeps His Cool in Heat of Battle July 20, 2017 | Andover, Kan. By Stuart Hall

Despite searing heat and the pressure of a tough foe, Joe Highsmith maintained his cool in producing a Round-of-64 win on Wednesday. (USGA/Jeff Haynes) 

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When the heat and humidity becomes oppressive, such as this week in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Flint Hills National Golf Club, Joe Highsmith wears a black rain glove to keep his grip hand dry.

“When it’s super hot, my hands get slippery and sweaty when I wear a normal glove,” he said of the progressive-thinking tactic.

It’s also peculiar, because it is hard to imagine Highsmith sweating on a golf course. Such was the case on Wednesday when the 17-year-old from Lakewood, Wash., was locked in a tense Round-of-64 match against Garrett Barber, of West Palm Beach, Fla.

Twice, Highsmith rallied to square the match after being 1 down. With a 1-up lead on the par-3 17th hole, Highsmith overcooked a 5-iron beyond the green that allowed Barber to square the match for a third time. Highsmith, making his third successive appearance in the U.S. Junior Amateur’s match-play draw, eventually won on the 18th hole, 1 up.

His demeanor, though, was as calm in victory as it was when trailing.

“He’s really even-keeled and tends not to show his emotions on the course … he’s a grinder,” said Anne Highsmith, his mother. “He just keeps in his head what he needs to do. He seems to learn from his mistakes and the next time around I will see him be smarter, maybe make a better club decision. He will also recall things that have happened before and I think it helps him.”

Such recall of the past two U.S. Junior Amateurs could be of benefit in the Round of 32 on Thursday morning when he faces Noah Goodwin, who at No. 27 in the World Amateur Golf RankingTM, is the highest ranked played in this week’s field.

“He’s the No. 1-ranked junior and probably the best player here, especially in match play considering [defending champion] Min Woo [Lee] got beat,” said Highsmith. “His game is pretty perfect, so it’s going to take my best golf to beat him, but I think I can do it.”

Highsmith, who is No. 1,273 in the WAGR, is in a good place mentally. Having twice qualified for match play in this championship, he believes he belongs.

“Being here … I won’t say it makes it easier, but it calms me down knowing I have already been here twice,” he said. “And there are only a handful of players who can say they have been here multiple years. So, it’s definitely a confidence boost.”

Highsmith is also no stranger to drawing high-profile players.

Two years ago at Colleton River Plantation Club in Bluffton, S.C., Highsmith drew and lost to 2014 quarterfinalist and 2012 U.S. Open qualifier Andy Zhang in the Round of 64. Last year at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., he defeated 2015 runner-up Andrew Orischak in the Round of 64.

And going into Wednesday’s match, Highsmith already had history with Barber.

Two weeks ago at the American Junior Golf Association’s Wyndham Cup at Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa, Calif., Highsmith and Barber were on opposite sides of foursomes (alternate-shot) matches. Highsmith and his respective partners won both.

In May, Highsmith, who attends Bellarmine Prep, won the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s 4A title and the Washington Junior Golf Association’s Players Open. Just prior to the Wyndham Cup, he was the runner-up in the AJGA’s Polo Junior Golf Classic at The Ridge at Back Brook in Ringoes, N.J.

“Being comfortable is big for me here,” said Highsmith, who plans to attend Pepperdine University in 2018. “Obviously I had another tough match [in the Round of 64] to get through. I have never been great at match play. I tend to play better in stroke play, but I have learned that playing my own game and not the opponent helps.

“The last two years, I scraped it around and barely got to match play. My game wasn’t really solid. Coming in this year, I have been playing really well. I took second at the Polo Junior, so to finish high in an invitational gave me confidence coming in. But my ball striking is better, my putting is better … pretty much my whole game is better.”

Even if he does occasionally sweat.

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

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