U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Round 2: Five Storylines to Watch July 18, 2017 | Andover, Kan. By David Shefter, USGA

Wichita native Wells Padgett, seen here in 2015 at Colleton River, is relishing the chance to play his last Junior Am in front of friendly faces. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

U.S. Junior Amateur Home

Day 2 of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship always brings an air of anticipation and excitement. It is the final round of stroke play, meaning at the conclusion of play on Tuesday, the field will be cut from 156 to 64 golfers. A medalist or medalists will also be crowned, but generally the focus is on the cutline – where it will fall and who might be headed for a playoff for the final spots in the draw.

That all will be sorted out on Tuesday at Flint Hills National Golf Club. So as play is about to commence, here are five storylines to ponder:

Home Cooking

It’s not often you get to play a USGA championship in your hometown, and Wells Padgett is certainly relishing the opportunity. Between 15 and 20 friends and family followed the 18-year-old from Wichita around the par-71 Tom Fazio layout on Monday, and even more are expected the deeper he goes in the championship. Padgett didn’t disappoint his audience on Day 1, carding a 4-under 67.

“It’s cool, especially at this tournament because the last two years I really didn’t have anyone following me around,” said Padgett. “I want to play well for them.”

In between shots on Monday, Padgett was interacting with his small gallery and said, “It was almost like playing at home with my friends, it’s just they aren’t playing.”

Sometimes a “home” game can bring about unwanted distractions. Padgett said he’s been able to zone in and focus on the course, thanks to his caddie and former South Maize High School teammate Cale Bontrager.

This is the third time Padgett has played a major event in his area. Last week, he competed in the Trans-Miss Amateur at Prairie Dunes in nearby Hutchinson, the same venue where he won the 2015 Trusted Choice Big I Championship.

“I know I should be nervous because it’s my hometown,” said Padgett, who is headed to Auburn University in the fall. “If it affects you in a negative way, then it’s bad nerves. I just have high expectations this week, so I guess I have more pressure on myself. But I am doing pretty well so far.”

‘Local’ Knowledge

Speaking of home cooking, Joshua Armstrong’s host this week happens to be Tom Devlin, the owner and founder of Flint Hills National. Armstrong, 18, of Australia, who is competing in his first USGA championship, picked up a few tips on the course and promptly carded a 2-under 69 on Monday.

“He helped me out with a few things,” said Armstrong. “I’m getting all the knowledge that I can.”

Armstrong, one of three Australians in the field that includes defending champion Min Woo Lee, would like to continue the recent strong performances of his countrymen. Besides Lee, Fred Lee was a quarterfinalist last year, and Ryan Ruffels and Cameron Smith, both of whom are professionals, also enjoyed past success in the event.

Seeing what this championship did for Min Woo Lee a year ago is something Armstrong would love to emulate. Min Woo was the runner-up in the Australian Amateur last fall and recently lost in a playoff in the Sahalee Players Championship.

“This is one of the higher-quality junior events,” said Armstrong, who lost in the Round of 64 of last year’s Boys Amateur Championship conducted by The R&A. “I love this tournament so far. The USGA does an awesome job.”

Support From Afar

Shigeki Maruyama isn’t at Flint Hills National this week to watch his son Sean compete in his first U.S. Junior Amateur. The name should sound familiar. Shigeki is a three-time PGA Tour winner – and 10-time champion in his native Japan – who shot a 58 at Woodmont Country Club’s South Course in sectional qualifying for the 2000 U.S. Open. He also tied for fourth in the 2004 U.S. Open.

But watching his son compete is mentally difficult.

“I think he’s watched me play twice in tournaments, nothing big, just local,” said Sean after shooting a 4-under 67 on Monday. “He gets too nervous.”

But after signing his card on Monday, Sean, 17, knew a phone call was coming. Shigeki views the scores online and then gets the highlights by phone.

That’s OK for Sean, a rising senior at Campbell High in Studio City, Calif., who holds dual citizenship from Japan and the U.S. In fact, Shigeki has told Sean he doesn’t want him to become a professional golfer.

“Now that I am serious about it, he doesn’t want me to turn pro,” said Sean, who has verbally committed to play at UCLA in 2018. “He keeps telling me it’s really frustrating. He says it is fun now, but it’s going to get real hard soon. I want to do if I am good enough.”

Friendly Confines

When Ricky Castillo qualified for the U.S. Amateur two years ago, he felt a little intimidated. Assembled at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club were players such as Jon Rahm and eventual champion Bryson DeChambeau, both winners this year on the PGA Tour. Maverick McNealy and Beau Hossler from the 2015 USA Walker Cup Team were also in the field.

“It was pretty difficult,” said Castillo, who shot 8 over par and missed the match-play cut.

This week, Castillo, 16, of Yorba Linda, Calif., feels much more at ease competing against his peers.

“I’ve played with all these players before,” he said.

With his 19-year-old brother Derek on his bag, the rising high school junior carded a 4-under 67 in his first U.S. Junior Amateur round. Derek has competed in one U.S. Junior Amateur and one U.S. Amateur, so his experience provided positive reinforcement for Ricky.

“He helps me a lot,” said Castillo, who plans to play at the University of Florida in 2019 (his brother is a sophomore at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas). “We work as a team. I don’t see him as a person carrying my bag. I trust him.”

Floridian Eugene Hong says stamina is the key for him to break his semifinal jinx in the U.S. Junior Amateur. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

Hong Ready for Marathon

If there is anything Eugene Hong has learned from advancing to two consecutive semifinals in the U.S. Junior Amateur is it takes tremendous stamina as much as physical talent to take the title.

The 17-year-old from Orlando, Fla., said physical fatigue was a factor in losing his two semifinal matches in 2015 (to Andrew Orischak) and 2016 (to eventual champion Min Woo Lee). He also felt his energy wane last month when he lost a three-hole playoff to Joaquin Niemann for the final spot in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Jupiter Hills Club in Tequesta,  Fla.

“I am trying to improve my fitness,” said Hong, who carded a 3-under 68 on Monday. “I am trying to eat better. I have worked on my golf fitness.”

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

 

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