Jim Magruder says he still has the mental battle scar from his match-play loss to Andrew Orischak four years ago. But with each passing year, he takes a little bit more pride in telling the story.
"He was 12 years old, he was 5 feet tall and he weighed 98 pounds, and he closed me out, 3 and 2,” said the 64-year-old Magruder, who is a former stroke-play champion at Long Cove Club in Hilton Head Island, S.C. "I went into the clubhouse and guys were asking ‘Did you really lose to a 12-year-old?’ and I said ‘Well, he’s almost 13.'"
Magruder also knew he lost to a kid with huge potential.
On Wednesday morning, Orischak, with Magruder as his caddie, qualified for the match-play portion of the 68th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Colleton River Plantation Club’s Dye Course.
For Orischak, now 16, this week is a home game, as he lives 20 minutes away on Hilton Head Island. The hometown-kid-makes-good storyline has attracted increased fanfare and media attention.
"I kind of like it,” said Orischak, a rising junior at Hilton Head High who was exempt into this championship as a result of being ranked inside the top 400 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ by the June 3 registration deadline.
“It definitely kicks me in the butt when I’m doing something that I shouldn’t be doing. You have got all these people out here and I have got to play well for them… not that I’m actually playing for them, but I want to do well. Once you get on the course, though, it’s just like any other tournament. You and the ball and the hole."
Magruder has little doubt that Orischak will rise to the occasion.
In a 2014 U.S. Open local qualifier at Long Cove Club, where Magruder and Orischak are members, Orischak medaled with a competitive course record of 6-under 65.
"He’s used to that pressure and really kind of thrives on it,” said Magruder, who works with The First Tee of the Lowcountry. "Not in an egotistical way, but I think it helps him focus. Everybody feels pressure, but he channels it into good play."
Though Orischak won’t graduate until 2017, he has announced his intention to play for the University of Virginia.
“It was definitely a little unexpected, I know,” Orischak said. “Not a lot of people expected to me to go north, but I fell in love with the area and the coaches.”
Around that time, Orischak’s Hilton Head Island-based instructor, Tim Cooke, a former Virginia player, said Orischak was ready for the collegiate level.
“Yes and no,” said Orischak when asked if he agreed with that assessment. “There is a certain maturity that comes with that type of level and I think I am working my way to that. But I think my game could hang in there with those guys.”
While Orischak attributes his move to Long Cove as being a major factor in his decision to focus more time on golf, another tale contributed. A few years ago he played a casual round with the Woodward brothers – Jay , who played at Penn State University, and Woody, who currently plays at Wake Forest University. Orischak, 12 at the time, shot 69.
Such tales are reasons why Magruder believes this could be a breakout week for Orischak.
“He’s really good, and he’s swinging it really good this week,” said Magruder. “His putting is much improved. He’s exceptionally long. In two rounds, he’s probably had a dozen drives in the 320-yard range. And he hits it very straight. So I think that’s going to be intimidating to some players.”
Should Orischak begin working his way through the draw – he faced Clay Seeber in Wednesday’s Round of 64 – the galleries are likely to swell. He cannot imagine how many friends, family members and curious onlookers may turn out.
“Hopefully big,” he said of the potential gallery size. “As big as they can get. That would be pretty cool.”
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.