U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Round of 64: Five Storylines to Watch
July 19, 2017 | Andover, Kan.
By David Shefter, USGA
Two rounds of stroke play are now in the books, and the field of the 70th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Flint Hills National Golf Club has been trimmed from 156 to 64. Now, the knockout stages can commence with Wednesday’s Round of 64. The first match is scheduled to start at 8 a.m. CDT. Here are five storylines to follow:
Round of 32. Quarterfinals. Semifinals.
There’s only one step left for John Pak in the U.S. Junior Amateur.
“I really hope so,” said Pak of his ambition of making it to the championship match in his fourth and final appearance. “I hope to win this year.”
The 18-year-old from Scotch Plains, N.J., an incoming freshman at Florida State University, cleared the first hurdle by carding rounds of 69-66 for a 7-under total of 135 to easily advance into the match-play draw.
Now Pak is hoping for his match-play experience to take over. He faces Angelo Giantsopoulos, of Canada, at 8:20 a.m.
“You’ve got to play very strategically, knowing where your [opponent] is,” he said. “Honestly, I like to know where I am standing, even if it is in stroke play.
“Say [my opponent] lays up. When I am feeling good about my driver, I will go for it, [where] in stroke play I would have likely layed up. I have more of an attack mentality.”
After a disappointing opening round on Monday, Trent Phillips figured out the issue: stop hitting his driver.
“[Monday] was a struggle … only because I hit one fairway in 18 holes,” said Phillips, who faces Cameron Sisk at 10:10 a.m. “I had no clue where the ball was going.”
On Tuesday, he almost exclusively used his 2-iron on par 4s and par 5s and the result was an 11-stroke improvement, and more importantly, a spot in the match-play draw for the 17-year-old from Spartanburg, S.C.
“I hit my 2-iron like 260 or 270 [yards], it’s a stinger,” said Phillips after carding a 5-under 66 on Tuesday. “My irons are good right now. If I just give myself chances … I can make birdies.”
Phillips, who plans to play at the University of Georgia in 2018, said he likes a little adversity. Now the left-hander will carry that momentum into Wednesday.
“I’m ready for it,” he said.
Still in the Hunt
There was a sense of relief for Min Woo Lee on Tuesday after he survived the two stroke-play rounds to qualify for match play. No defending champion wants to miss the cut, and after shooting 6-under 136, Lee not only qualified for the Round of 64, he also earned a high seed.
Now, the fun part begins.
“I love match play,”’ said the 18-year-old Australian who faces 2017 California Amateur runner-up Noah Norton at 11:20 a.m. “It suits my game really well, just being the aggressive player that I am. I feel good going into match play. I know I have the ability to beat anyone in the field.”
Lee has enjoyed success in match-play events. Not only did he win six matches last year at The Honors Course, but he also was the runner-up last fall in the Australian Amateur, which uses a similar format.
If he wins this week, he will become the first player since Tiger Woods (1991-1993) to win consecutive titles and would join 2015 U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth and the aforementioned nine-time USGA champion as the only multiple U.S. Junior Amateur victors.
“It’s definitely on my mind,” said Lee, whose sister Minjee, won the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior and tied for 11th in last week’s U.S. Women’s Open. “I know I just have to play well. Jordan and Tiger are big names. It would mean a lot [to join them].”
When it comes to popularity, soccer and ice hockey are the two most popular sports in Slovakia. But Teddy Tetak, a strapping 17-year-old, gravitated to a game relatively new to the Eastern European country. His father introduced him to golf at a young age and in 2008 Tetak followed his then-swing coach to the U.S. to attend the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“He thought it was the best sport that I could play,” said Tetak of his father. “Golf is my passion. I love playing.”
Slovakia, Tetak said, has only about six championship-level golf courses, and although there are around 7,000 people playing the game, very few are considered elite-level players.
So moving to Florida nine years ago to attend a golf academy – he has since switched to the Bishop Gates Golf Academy in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. – has allowed Tetak’s game to blossom and mature as well as catch the attention of college coaches. On Tuesday, Tetak, who plans to play at the University of South Carolina in 2018, carded a 6-under 65 (36-hole total of 139) to easily qualify for match play in his first USGA championship. He faces Ryan Gerard at 8:20 a.m.
“This is the right place for me to get better at golf,” said Tetak, whose parents still live in Slovakia.
Tetak spends much of the summer in Europe, and he plans to compete in a couple big amateur events when returns home next week. But right now he’s focused on the Junior Amateur, and perhaps inspiring others in his country. No male Slovakian player has competed on the PGA European Tour, and just one female – Zuzana Kamasova – has competed on the Ladies European Tour.
“It definitely would mean something for the sport,” said Tetak when asked if advancing far this week would create headlines back home. “But I just want to take it one match at a time and not try to think about it.”
It took a little more than an hour and three holes, but Skyler Eubank, of Meridian, Idaho, finally prevailed in a 10-for-1 playoff for the last spot in the match-play draw. Eubank converted a 15-foot putt on the par-4 12th hole to eliminate Tommy Kuhl.
His reward? A starting time on Wednesday at 8 a.m. against medalist Austin Eckroat, who posted a 10-under total of 132. Eubank, who is attending Boise State University in the fall, will be looking to be the first No. 64 seed to advance in the Junior Amateur since Shane Sigsbee in 2002 at Atlanta Athletic Club, where he defeated Jarred Texter, 2 up.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.