Once Again, Cowboys Meet Far Too Early in the Week
August 16, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif.
By Dave Shedloski
Hayden Wood couldn’t believe his luck when he saw the pairings for the first round of match play in the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship.
His opponent on Wednesday would be Viktor Hovland of Norway, who is No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He also happens to be Wood’s teammate on the Oklahoma State University golf team.
“I had a weird feeling,” said Wood, 22. “It’s definitely different to have to play one of your teammates in such a big event. It’s weird. That’s all I can say.”
It’s also tough to beat one of them, which Wood found out for the second year in a row.
With a steady all-around performance and a few clutch putts, Hovland knocked out Wood with a 3-and-2 decision at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Last year in the Round of 32 of the U.S. Amateur at The Riviera Country Club, near Los Angeles, Wood fell to fellow Cowboy Kristoffer Ventura by the same score.
“I knew playing Hayden was going to be a tough one. It was not an ideal situation,” said Hovland, 20, who is playing in his second U.S. Amateur and third USGA championship. “I knew I was going to have to play solid all day.”
As an added coincidence to this scenario, Oklahoma State golf coach Alan Bratton served as the caddie for the winning player for the second time in as many years.
“It’s amazing that it keeps happening, but we’re blessed to have good players in our program,” Bratton said. “Obviously, I would prefer it happened in the final instead of the first round. But this is the third time it’s happened to me. I should be used to this, but it’s never easy.”
In 2010, Bratton caddied for eventual champion Peter Uihlein at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. In the quarterfinals, Uihlein went up against teammate Morgan Hoffmann and emerged with a 1-up victory.
“I always approach it the same. I help both players. Any information I had I shared with both of them before the match, just as I did for the first two days of stroke play,” Bratton said. “As a caddie, you always try to do the best for your player, and during the match, that’s what I do, though I’m trying to stay out of the way.”
Wood, an AJGA All-American in 2012, felt like he got in his own way with a couple of bogeys, while Hovland toured Pebble Beach without a bogey, a recipe for success no matter the competitive format. He never trailed in the match.
“I didn’t try to think of him as a teammate,” said Wood, of Edmond, Okla., the No. 38 seed. “I just knew I needed to prepare for a tough match and a tough competitor. And that’s exactly what I faced. Viktor played very steady.”
Hovland, the No. 27 seed, proved no tougher than during a critical stretch that essentially decided the match. With a birdie on the par-4 11th hole sandwiched between pars at Nos. 10 and 12, Hovland won three straight holes for a 3-up lead. Then at the 13th, Wood chipped in from behind the green for birdie, but Hovland preserved his advantage by sinking a 15-footer on top of his teammate.
“That was really huge for me, to stay 3 up,” Hovland said. “And then I made a huge putt for par at 14. I lost the hole because Hayden made his birdie, but I still felt good because I didn’t give the hole away. I forced him to make his putt, a tough 10-footer down the hill. I kept the pressure going.”
“He was just himself. He didn’t give away any holes,” Bratton said of Hovland. “Both kids played very well, but Hayden missed a few chances early. Viktor is hitting it well and he’s controlling his distances well. He’s played a little better every day.”
After a conceded birdie at 15, Hovland closed out Wood by halving the 16th with pars. It likely also closed out Wood’s career in the championship.
“This was probably my last Amateur. It’s probably a good idea. I don’t want to keep getting beat by Coach and good friends,” Wood said with a chuckle. “I’ll turn pro after nationals next spring. Watch, he’ll probably caddie for someone in the U.S. Open, and they’ll take me down.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.