U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
U.S. Junior Amateur, Round 1: Five Things to Know July 15, 2018 | Springfield, N.J. By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Eugene Hong could potentially square off against two of his high school teammates once match play starts. (USGA/Scott A. Miller)

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The competitors are here, the course is ready, and more history is set to be made. The 71st U.S. Junior Amateur Championship begins on Monday. Here are five things to know as the action heats up at iconic Baltusrol Golf Club.

More deep runs in store for Thomas, Smith?: With 2017 champion Noah Goodwin and runner-up Matthew Wolff not in the field this year, the coast is clear for new faces at Baltusrol Golf Club. While all 156 competitors will have their eyes on playing 36 holes of golf on Saturday, none will be hungrier than Rayhan Thomas and Ryan Smith, who came oh-so-close a year ago. Thomas, 18, advanced to the semifinals at Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Kan., before falling to Goodwin, and Smith, 16, was Thomas’ victim in the quarterfinals. An annual U.S. Open exemption for the champion was announced later in 2017, only making their near misses more painful.

Before they get another crack at the 64-player match-play bracket, however, they need to make it through two challenging rounds of stroke play.

“Rounds 1 and 2 are a good way to get your footing. You don’t want to be too far back – not that it matters once match play starts, but you want to know that you have that confidence, that you’re shooting some good scores,” said Thomas, who is focused on building positive vibes during stroke play rather than focusing too much on seeding. “Once match play comes around, I don’t think it really matters who you’re playing against, because eventually you are going to play against the best.”

Two courses for stroke play: Both courses at Baltusrol have storied histories, and the 156 competitors will get to experience each one this week. On Monday and Tuesday, the field will play one round each on the Upper and Lower courses, before the championship shifts exclusively to the Upper for match play. That’s unusual for the U.S. Junior Amateur, but starting in 2020, the field will expand and stroke play will regularly be conducted on two courses. Host site Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., will be joined in 2020 by Chaska Town Club as the stroke-play co-host. This week will provide an early look at the new format.

From teammates to fellow competitors: Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber earned their place in the USGA Hall of Champions earlier this year when they captured the fourth U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title. If one of them is going to become the first U.S. Junior Amateur champion to win multiple USGA titles in the same year, they’ll have to push past their playing partner from this spring. Similarly, the trio of Canon Claycomb, Daniel Core and Eugene Hong will attempt to defend their Florida state high school title with Circle Christian School this fall, but first up is the ultimate test in junior golf. Solid starts for these five could set the stage for some interesting matches (and endless bragging rights) later in the week.

Upper to Lower, Baltusrol has few USGA peers: The 71st U.S. Junior Amateur is the 16th USGA championship for Baltusrol Golf Club, and the first one since the 2000 U.S. Amateur. That moves it, for the time being, into a tie with Oakmont Country Club and The Country Club for the second-most USGA championships hosted (the U.S. Open will be played at The Country Club and Oakmont in 2022 and 2025, respectively). Merion Golf Club, in Ardmore, Pa., leads the way with 18, with the Curtis Cup headed its way in 2022. And both the Upper and Lower Courses enjoy prime places in USGA history. Lower was the site of two of Jack Nicklaus’ four U.S. Open titles and Mickey Wright’s third U.S. Women’s Open victory in 1961, while the Upper Course was the site of the 1936 U.S. Open, won by Tony Manero; the 1985 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Kathy (Baker) Guadagnino; and the aforementioned 2000 U.S. Amateur, won by Jeff Quinney.

The Jack Effect, in full force at Baltusrol: When competitors play the Lower Course, they will be very aware of the history that was made there, and who made much of it. In both of Jack Nicklaus’ U.S. Open wins on the Lower, he set the championship’s 72-hole scoring record, first with 275 in 1967, then breaking his own record in 1980 with 272. At the Players Dinner on Saturday evening, competitors were shown a video message from Nicklaus, in which he discussed the significance of playing in the U.S. Junior Amateur, and how special Baltusrol is to him. Every player also received a letter in their locker from Nicklaus, with similar sentiments. Play well, guys. The Golden Bear is watching.

Scott Lipsky is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

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