Nine Things to Know for 116th U.S. Amateur Championship
August 12, 2016 | Bloomfield Township, Mich.
By David Shefter, USGA
Historic Oakland Hills Country Club is no stranger to the national and international stage. The club, which was established in 1916, features a pair of Donald Ross-designed courses – the better-known South Course opened in 1918 and the shorter North Course five years later – that have challenged some of the game’s greatest players.
On the eve of the 116th U.S. Amateur – the second U.S. Amateur contested at Oakland Hills – here are nine things to know about this year’s championship:
Few U.S. courses can match the major-championship pedigree of Oakland Hills, a venue nicknamed “The Monster” by Ben Hogan after he claimed his third U.S. Open title in 1951 following an extensive renovation by Robert Trent Jones Sr. that lengthened and toughened the South Course. His son, Rees, also has performed renovations to the layout.
Cyril Walker (1924), Ralph Guldahl (1937), Gene Littler (1961), Andy North (1985) and Steve Jones (1996) are the other individuals to have won U.S. Open titles at Oakland Hills. U.S. Open champions Gary Player (1972) and David Graham (1979) won PGA Championships here, along with Padraig Harrington (2008). Jack Nicklaus defeated Chi Chi Rodriguez in an 18-hole playoff to win the first of his two U.S. Senior Open titles (1991), 10 years after Arnold Palmer won his lone Senior Open championship. Europe also won the 2004 Ryder Cup here and Ricky Barnes won the only U.S. Amateur conducted at the club in 2002, becoming the 500th USGA champion in the process.
In 1993, members and guests were introduced to the “Walk of Champions” when huge boulders – each 8 to 10 tons in weight – were installed along the first tee of the South Course to commemorate 12 major championship winners. Stones have since been added for the likes of Jones, Harrington and Barnes.
Anyone who has played Oakland Hills under championship conditions understands the challenge and the difficulty. The South Course, which hosts all of the matches, will measure 7,334 yards and play to a par of 70. The par-70 North Course is 485 yards shorter on the card, but isn’t a pushover. Ben Kimball, the director of the U.S. Amateur Championship, said the graduated primary rough on the South Course will be 3 to 5 inches in depth. The North Course will feature 3½-4-inch rough. Green speeds are expected to be between 12 and 13.5 feet on the Stimpmeter.
Kimball also said the USGA will vary teeing grounds during match play on several holes, including the 401-yard, par-4 16th, which has a short tee option that could entice competitors to go for the green. A shorter teeing ground also is possible on the 387-yard sixth hole. The par-3 ninth measures 253 on the card, but a forward tee can trim that distance to 165 yards.
“All in all, I would expect to see the South Course put up a very stern, but fair fight,” said Kimball. “The player that will prevail will be the one who makes the smart decisions, drives the ball in play and putts with control.”
Century of Excellence
Oakland Hills will celebrate its centennial on Oct. 17. The club was founded by Joseph Mack and Norval Hawkins at a meeting of 46 friends and associates at the Detroit Athletic Club in 1916, and a year later, legendary course architect Donald Ross visited the property for the first time. It was then that Ross told the group, “The Lord intended this for a golf course.” Walter Hagen was hired as the club’s first professional in 1918, and he served in that role until 1920, a year after he won the second of his two U.S. Open titles.
The clubhouse, designed by club member C. Howard Crane, was completed in 1922 and included 24 rooms. Crane’s local architecture work also included Orchestra Hall, the Fox Theater and the current Detroit Opera House.
More recently, the clubhouse went through a $16.25 million renovation project in 1999.
Defending U.S. Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau turned professional a week after this year’s Masters, so a new name will be added to the Havemeyer Trophy on Aug. 21. Seventy players from the 2015 field are back, including runner-up Derek Bard and semifinalist Sean Crocker. Also returning are quarterfinalists Matthew Perrine and Austin James.
The field also includes 13 USGA champions, including newly minted U.S. Junior Amateur winner Min Woo Lee, and four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith, who has competed on three USA Walker Cup Teams and partnered with 2013 USA Walker Cup teammate Todd White to claim the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2015 at The Olympic Club.
League of Nations
When the USGA began exempting the top 50 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ in 2012, it globalized the field and provided a better opportunity for international players to compete for America’s oldest championship. Including the U.S., there are 29 countries represented. Canada boasts the most international competitors with 12, but there also are competitors from Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad and Tobaga, Uruguay and Venezuela, among others, in the field.
Some of the international players to watch include Min Woo Lee, of Australia, who won last month’s U.S. Junior Amateur and is the younger brother of two-time LPGA Tour winner and 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Minjee Lee; reigning Latin America Amateur Champion Paul Chaplet, of Costa Rica; Joaquin Niemann, of Chile; and Amateur Champion Scott Gregory, of England, who won at Royal Porthcawl in Wales.
Respect Your Elders
It’s been 23 years since a mid-amateur (25 and older) has won the U.S. Amateur, when John Harris defeated Danny Ellis at Champions Golf Club in Houston. A few mid-amateurs have come close since, notably Buddy Marucci losing to Tiger Woods in the 1995 final and Tom McKnight coming up short against Hank Kuehne three years later. Austin Eaton III, in 2005, advanced to the semifinals, losing to eventual champion Edoardo Molinari, and four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith reached the quarterfinals two years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Smith is in the field, along with recent Mid-Amateur champions Sammy Schmitz (2015), Scott Harvey (2014) and Michael McCoy (2013). Another mid-amateur to watch is Garrett Rank, of Canada, who will become a full-time National Hockey League referee for the 2016-17 season. Rank was the runner-up to Smith in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur and is the reigning Canadian Mid-Amateur champion. He made the cut in this year’s RBC Canadian Open.
Reigning U.S. Senior Amateur champion Chip Lutz is coming off a dramatic playoff victory at the Seniors Amateur Championship at Formby in England, where he converted a 25-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole. Lutz, 61, flew from England to Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the U.S. Senior Open before traveling to Michigan. Patrick Tallent, the 2014 U.S. Senior Amateur champion, is the oldest player in the field at 63.
Come See the Future
The U.S. Amateur offers spectators and those watching on television a glimpse into the future of the game. While Tiger Woods is the only champion of the last 20 years to later win a professional major – he owns 14, including three U.S. Open titles – several recent winners have posted PGA Tour or PGA European Tour victories. That group includes 1997 champion Matt Kuchar, 2004 champion Ryan Moore, 2005 champion Edoardo Molinari, 2006 champion Richie Ramsay, 2008 champion Danny Lee, 2009 winner Byeong-Hun An, 2010 champion Peter Uihlein and 2013 winner Matthew Fitzpatrick. Molinari, of Italy, represented Europe in the 2010 Ryder Cup with his brother, Francesco. Gunn Yang, who won the title in 2014, is the only U.S. Amateur champion in the field.
No Michigan golfer has hoisted the Havermeyer Trophy, but there are nine in the field from the Great Lakes State hoping to change that history, including four mid-amateurs. Jeff Champine, 44, of Rochester Hills, will be competing in his eighth, while Bradley Bastion, 31, of Shelby Township, is competing in his fourth. Bastion advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Fellow Shelby Township resident Anthony Sorentino, 38, won the 2006 and 2015 Michigan Mid-Amateur as well as the Golf Association of Michigan Tournament of Champions in 2015. David Hall, 45, lives 10 minutes from the course in Birmingham. The former Michigan player of the Year reached the Round of 16 of the 1996 U.S. Mid-Amateur and has represented Michigan twice in the USGA Men’s State Team Championship.
Nick Carlson, 19, of Hamilton; Josh Heinze, 22, of Canton; Blaze Hogan, 22, of Big Rapids; Ben Smith, 16, of Novi; and Carlson Castellani, 23, of East Lansing, are all making their USGA championship debut. Castellani, a Michigan State graduate, is currently attending the Wayne State School of Medicine.
Tickets are available by visiting http://www.2016usamateur.com. Single-day grounds passes can be purchased for $20, while a weekly pass costs $75 and is good for both the two stroke-play rounds and five days of match play, which culminates with the 36-hole championship match on Sunday, Aug. 21. Military personnel and students can enter free of charge with a valid ID.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.