THE WOODLANDS, Texas – John Augenstein likes his position at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.
That might be hard to comprehend considering the 16-year-old from Owensboro, Ky., tied for 31st in the stroke-play portion and then survived a shaky 1-up win over Keenan Huskey, 17, of Greenville, S.C., in Wednesday’s opening round of match play at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course.
But he is this week’s No. 33 seed and Augenstein has mojo working in his favor.
Last year, as a 15-year-old making his debut at the U.S. Junior, Augenstein was the 33rd seed when he made a spirited run through the match-play bracket. Along the way, Augenstein knocked off top-seeded Jim Liu, 5 and 4, in the round of 32, and Sam Horsfield, this week’s co-medalist, 1 up, in the quarterfinals. Augenstein’s run ended with a 20-hole loss to eventual runner-up Davis Riley in the semifinals.
This tournament is all about runs, he said. I know I’m a better player this year, but this is the sort of tournament where you could be a much better player than the other guy and still lose.
I would definitely like to get back in that position and hopefully move forward, he added.
Augenstein is well aware that moving forward will require him to play much better than he did in his win over Huskey, who managed to hold 1-up leads after the first and third holes. Augenstein squared the match with a birdie on the par-4 fourth hole and then won the fifth, ninth and 11th to build a 3-up lead.
I didn’t play as well as I would have liked, but I was able to win some holes and build a lead, Augenstein said. Then on the back, it was back and forth, I hit some bad tee shots and didn’t hit the ball as well as I know I can.
Over the final seven holes, Huskey won four, but only one was won with a birdie.
Augenstein admits he must tighten up his game when he faces top-seeded and co-medalist Sean Crocker, 17, of Zimbabwe, in Thursday morning’s second round.
He’s not going to make too many bogeys, that’s for sure, Augenstein said. I’ve played with him before and he’s a really good player. I am going to have to bring my best to stay with him.
With a 4-1 overall record in this championship, Augenstein acknowledges a growing penchant for the match-play format.
I’m still learning how to play match play, how to deal with the emotional ups and downs that happen throughout the round, said Augenstein, who is quite expressive of his emotions on the course. You have to try and find that groove and control your emotions.
On Wednesday, Augenstein admitted he was getting a little irritated with his erratic play and was very disappointed how I handled some shots. But you learn from these things. Hopefully I will come out and play better. I’m going to have to.
It will not hurt to have history in his corner.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.