Salinda’s Semifinal Surge Comes in First USGA Foray
August 17, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif.
By Dave Shedloski
Until this week at the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship, Isaiah Salinda had never competed in a USGA event. Not that he didn’t try.
“I've been first or second alternate probably at least six times combined for like the Junior Am and the U.S. Am, and it’s kind of tough to qualify out of Northern California,” Salinda explained. “So, this year I actually did it in Ohio, Cincinnati, and played well, so maybe that’s what I needed to do.”
Salinda played in the Cincinnati qualifier because he had just competed in the Trans-Miss Amateur in Columbus, Ohio. The breakthrough has given him a chance to prove what he probably knew all along when he sat on the sidelines – that he belongs.
A senior at Stanford University, Salinda, 21, is just two steps away from realizing the biggest victory of his life after he dispatched Will Gordon of Davidson, N.C., Friday in the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals, 2 and 1, at Pebble Beach Golf Links. His opponent in the semifinals at 8 a.m. PDT Saturday will be familiar, Devon Bling of Ridgecrest, Calif.
Bling, a sophomore at UCLA, and Salinda were paired together for the first two rounds of the Pac-12 Championship three months ago. Bling advanced on Friday by rallying to beat Davis Riley of Hattiesburg, Miss., 1 up.
Because he attends Stanford and hails from South San Francisco, Calif., Salinda is somewhat the local favorite in this championship, and he has drawn increasingly larger galleries as he has advanced this week.
“A lot more Stanford fans,” said Salinda of Friday’s followers. “There were a few Stanford families out there and just Bay Area people who were supporting me. It was nice to have their support.”
Salinda was 3 years old when he was introduced to the game by his father, Antonio, who has followed every step of the way this week. “My parents have been huge supporters,” he said of his father and mother, Debbie.
Like many kids in his age group, Salinda grew up idolizing Tiger Woods. At Stanford, he has had a chance to spend a little time with the 14-time major champion, who owns nine USGA titles. “He’s come by sometimes and hangs out,” Salinda said. “That’s definitely been a pretty cool experience.”
Which is what he is expecting Saturday morning.
“Yeah, I’m very excited. I've never been in this position,” he said. “Just looking forward to it with having the galleries and the atmosphere has been really cool to play in front of.”
Salinda’s road to the semifinals hasn’t been easy. In the opening round he had to get past Will Grimmer of Cincinnati, who was one of just three amateurs to make the cut in the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. In the Round of 16, he rallied to take out 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad in a match he never led until the 18th green.
On Friday, he jumped out to a 4-up lead through five holes only to see Gordon, an honorable mention All-American out of Vanderbilt, whittle the deficit to one hole. Salinda closed him out with a kick-in birdie at the 16th thanks to a 9-iron from 150 yards that stopped within inches of the cup.
Like Gordon, Salinda was an honorable mention All-American this past season for Stanford after tying for 15th in the NCAA Division I Championship. Recently, he won the Pacific Coast Amateur, where he shot a career-best 9-under 62 on The Olympic Club's Lake Course in the third round, and tied for 13th at the Trans-Miss at Brookside Golf & Country Club, shooting a first-round 64.
This stretch, he agreed, is easily the best of his golf life.
“I don't know really,” he said with a shrug when asked to what he could attribute his hot play. “Just a lot of hard work and things are 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 on the course, managing my game the right way.”
Salinda has waited a long time to compete in a USGA championship. Maybe that turned out to be a blessing. Hitting on all cylinders, he’s making the most of it.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.