U.S. AMATEUR
Co-Medalist Hammer, World No. 5 Hovland To Meet in Semifinals August 17, 2018 | PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

World No. 5 Viktor Hovland has dominated the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur so far on his way to the semifinals. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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What Happened

Cole Hammer, 18, of Houston, Texas, posted a 3-and-2 quarterfinal victory Friday over Alex Fitzpatrick, of England, to advance to the semifinal round of the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship against Viktor Hovland of Norway, the No. 5 player in the world, as Hammer seeks his second USGA victory of 2018.

Hammer, an incoming freshman at the University of Texas, is the championship’s co-medalist and the No. 2 seed. Hammer captured the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball with Garrett Barber in May, and he was a U.S. Junior Amateur semifinalist three weeks ago and the Western Amateur champion two weeks ago.

“I’m trying not to think any further down the line,” said Hammer, who is 12-1 in his last 13 individual matches and 16-1 counting the Four-Ball victory. “I try to take each shot, each hole, each match as it comes. You can look ahead and what I might be able to have in the future, but I’m just trying to stay focused on the moment.”

Hammer will face possibly his sternest test of the week in Saturday’s semifinal round, beginning at 8:20 a.m. PDT. At No. 5, Hovland is the highest player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) left in the field, and he has rolled to back-to-back victories by 7-and-6 scores, including Friday’s win over Austin Squires in which he reeled off seven consecutive winning holes after halving the first.

Hovland’s margin of victory ties three other players (most recently Ben Curtis in 1999 at Pebble Beach) for the largest in a U.S. Amateur quarterfinal round since 1934, when matches were shortened from 36 to 18 holes.

“I played well the last couple of matches, and I think I’ve only made one bogey,” said Hovland, 20, a junior at Oklahoma State whose coach, Alan Bratton, is caddieing for him this week. “Out here with these conditions, it makes it hard for my opponent.”

After a Round of 16 in which six of the eight matches went to the 18th hole or beyond, only one of the four semifinal matches reached the iconic par-5 finishing hole at Pebble Beach. Devon Bling never led until winning the 18th with an up-and-down birdie from the front bunker after his opponent, Davis Riley, barely missed an 18-foot birdie try of his own.

“There were a couple of chances where I could tie the match on the back nine, but I missed a couple of putts,” said Bling, 18, of Ridgecrest, Calif., a rising sophomore at UCLA, who at No. 302 is the lowest-ranked player in the WAGR among the semifinalists. “But I got it to the 18th hole all square. That’s where ideally I wanted to be, and made birdie for the win. Couldn’t be happier.”

Bling will face fellow Californian and Pac-12 player Isaiah Salinda, who is entering his senior year at Stanford University. Salinda, No. 73 in the WAGR, posted a 2-and-1 victory over Will Gordon, 22, of Davidson, N.C., and Vanderbilt University, in which Salinda won four of the first five holes, then withstood a similar charge by Gordon midway through the match. Salinda’s winning birdie on the par-4 16th hole, when he hit a 9-iron to within inches of the hole, blunted Gordon’s rally.

What's Next

The semifinal round will be played on Saturday morning, with matches at 8 a.m. and 8:20 a.m. Fox will have TV coverage from noon to 3 p.m. EDT. The 36-hole championship match begins at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Notable

  • Cole Hammer is the first player since Brian Montgomery in 1986 to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Amateur in the same year. Montgomery won the 1986 U.S. Junior Amateur at Muirfield Village in July and reached the semifinals of the 1986 U.S. Amateur at Shoal Creek in August.

  • Viktor Hovland is the first player to win back-to-back matches by seven holes or more in the U.S. Amateur since Scott Hoch in 1978. Hovland defeated Kristoffer Reitan in the Round of 16 and Austin Squires in the quarterfinals by identical 7-and-6 scores. Hoch defeated Gene Gizzarelli and Tom Pernice by identical 7-and-5 scores in the same rounds.

  • Viktor Hovland is the first player from Norway to make the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur.

  • Hovland won seven holes in a row (Nos. 2-8) in his quarterfinal match. That is the most consecutive holes won since 2016 champion Curtis Luck won eight holes in a row (Nos. 20-27) in his championship match.

  • Salinda and Bling were grouped together in the 2018 Pac-12 Championships.

  • Salinda and Bling are vying to become the first player since Nathaniel Crosby in 1981 to win the U.S. Amateur in his home state. Crosby, also from California, won at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

  • Bling is attempting to become the first player from UCLA to win the U.S. Amateur.

  • Salinda is attempting to become the first Stanford golfer to win the U.S. Amateur since Tiger Woods in 1996.

Quotable

Cole Hammer, on stepping to the next level of amateur golf:

“I think when I won the Azalea earlier this year, when I came out on top in a playoff against Hugo Bernard and Joe Pagdin, I felt like I belonged in amateur golf rather than just in junior golf. Actually even before that, last year at the Jones Cup, I came in third, and that’s a pretty solid finish for 17 [years old]. But this whole year has gradually been a rise to the confidence that I have now.”

Isaiah Salinda, on the way his game is peaking in this, his first USGA championship:

“Just a lot of hard work and things are just coming together at the right time, all parts of my game. I think mentally, too – I’m mentally as strong as I’ve ever been just on the course, managing my game the right way.”

Devon Bling, who rallied to win on No. 18, on his two best shots of the day:

“The tee shot on 17, I missed the green the last couple of times I’ve played that hole, so I hit the green, got pretty aggressive with the putt, but ended up making par. And then the tee shot on 18 – to hit driver and commit to that line a little left of the tree and hit a pretty decent one, those are the two biggest shots today.”

The Social Scene

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