U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Round 1: Five Storylines to Follow
July 17, 2017 | Andover, Kan.
By David Shefter, USGA
A new chapter begins Monday for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship as 18-year-olds will compete for the first time since the competition began in 1948. That decision by the USGA last year allows defending champion Min Woo Lee a chance to become the third multiple winner, joining Tiger Woods (1991-1993) and Jordan Spieth (2009, 2011). Fifty-one 18-year-olds are competing in the championship, comprising nearly one-third of the 156-player field.
Each competitor will play 18 holes of stroke play on Monday and Tuesday, with the low 64 scorers advancing to match play on Wednesday. In addition to Lee, that group includes last year’s runner-up, Noah Goodwin – at No. 24 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ he is the highest ranked player – as well as a number of other high-profile juniors, including 2015 U.S. Open qualifier Cole Hammer (No. 70) and four others inside the top 100 of the WAGR: two-time Junior Amateur semifinalist Eugene Hong (No. 38), Davis Shore (No. 44), Rayhan Thomas (No. 82) and 2016 U.S. Junior semifinalist John Pak (No. 91).
Here are five other storylines heading into Round 1:
Frankie Capan and Shuai Ming (Ben) Wong have the rare opportunity this week to win a second USGA championship in the same year. But unlike at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in May, only one can hoist the trophy at the end of the competition. The 17-year-olds claimed the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title on May 31, becoming the first teens in the short three-year history of the event to win the championship.
“It’s a little different from the Four-Ball for sure,” said Wong of the U.S. Junior Amateur, an individual competition.
Although the two had combined for five previous appearances in the Junior Amateur, both had to qualify this year, doing so two days apart in June. Wong got in first with a 69 at Champions Golf Club in Houston, a round that saw him hit his opening tee shot out of bounds.
“The first hole, I kind of got thrown off being called the Four-Ball champion on the first tee,” said Wong. “I made double [bogey on the first hole]. Then I didn’t drop a shot after that and shot 2 under.”
Of course, Capan immediately received a text – the two longtime friends communicate daily – and having a little pressure to follow his buddy, posted a 67 at Emerald Greens Golf Club in Hastings, Minn. This came four days after he won the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup in Japan by two strokes with a 10-under 274.
“I was pretty positive he was going to get into the Junior Amateur,”said Wong.
Now one of the two has a chance to join a select group of golfers who have won multiple USGA titles in the same year, a list that includes Bob Jones, Chick Evans, Jay Sigel, Ryan Moore, Colt Knost ,and Eun Jeong Seong last year.
“That would definitely be special,” said Capan. “The format is obviously different, but I am not thinking it’s different. It’s still a USGA championship and I am still trying to do the best that I can.”
Adding to Family’s USGA Pedigree?
A day doesn’t go by when Cameron Meeks, playing in his first USGA championship, doesn’t hear about his father’s golf past. Eric Meeks won the 1988 U.S. Amateur at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., where he defeated Danny Yates, 7 and 6, in the 36-hole final.
“I probably know all of his stories by heart,” said Cameron, 18, of Las Vegas, Nev. “He’s told me everything on how it feels [to play in a USGA championship].”
Eric went on to play in two U.S. Opens, the 1989 Masters and last year’s U.S. Senior Open, where Cameron got a chance to view a USGA championship from inside the ropes by serving as his father’s caddie. That experience, Cameron said, will prove to be invaluable this week when he tees it up in the Junior Amateur, a championship neither Eric nor his twin brother, Aaron, ever qualified for. Aaron and Eric were both standout golfers at the University of Arizona before embarking on professional careers. Eric now runs a golf school in Las Vegas and has been Cameron’s only instructor.
“He definitely gave me the tools, but it was all me,” said Cameron on his desire to take the game seriously. “I love the game and this is what I love doing. Sometimes we argue a little but he’s always right. I try to listen to him as much as I can.”
Cameron, who will play for Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, has heeded plenty of advice in preparation for his first USGA championship, especially about match play. Perhaps he will duplicate what his father did and win a USGA title in his first attempt.
Can History Repeat … 55 Years Later?
The only time high school teammates have ever opposed each other in a U.S. Junior Amateur final was in 1962 when Jim Wiechers beat James Sullivan at Lochmoor Golf Club in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. Both attended Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, Calif. This year, a pair of recent Bellarmine Prep graduates and San Jose residents – Eddy Lai and Berk Harvey – would like to follow in their footsteps.
Lai, who will play for UCLA in the fall, was acutely aware of the past history, having read a USGA website story about Wiechers. Harvey didn’t know the backstory, even though Wiechers is the only golfer enshrined in Bellarmine Prep’s athletic hall of fame. Taking it one step further, Harvey, 18, is headed to Santa Clara in the fall, the same school Wiechers attended.
“Hopefully I can follow that legacy,” said Harvey.
Harvey and Lai, 18, were virtually inseparable during their high school days. They grew up 10 minutes from each other and roomed together on road trips. This is the first USGA championship they’ve played in together; Lai had qualified for two previous U.S. Junior Amateurs. Both qualified at Stanford University Golf Course with Harvey shooting 67 for medalist honors and Lai a 68.
Their next goal is to qualify for match play – hopefully on opposite sides of the bracket – and win five matches to meet in the 36-hole final.
Brandon Mancheno was a continent away when the news arrived. Upon returning home from the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup in Japan, his father informed his 17-year-old son that he would have to go through sectional qualifying to earn a spot in his third consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur. The Jacksonville, Fla., native was one spot short in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ to get an exemption. The first 25 players inside the top 400 were exempt. Mancheno was the 26th player.
So 10 days after tying for ninth in Japan, Mancheno, the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur medalist, carded an 8-under 64 to earn medalist honors at St. Johns Golf & Country Club in St. Augustine, Fla.
“I definitely knew I had to go out there and shoot 5 or 6 under to make it comfortably,” said Mancheno. “It ended up being 5 under [got the final] spot.”
Mancheno, who is headed to Auburn University in the fall, said he is motivated to improve upon his match-play performances of the last two years. He lost in the Round of 32 in 2015 to Turk Pettit and to Austin Eckroat in the Round of 64 last year. Both of those players are in this year’s field.
“I need to play my best in the stroke play and see what I can do in match play,” said Mancheno, the 2017 Florida Amateur runner-up. “My match-play game has gotten a lot better. You just have to go try to make as many birdies as you can. If you make a double or triple [bogey] on one hole, it doesn’t really matter. If you make a bunch of birdies, you are likely to advance.”
Being from Canada, Angelo Giantsopoulos was searching for a unique way to get noticed by American college coaches. So a couple of years ago, he created his own YouTube channel. Early videos featured swing sequences and tournament performances. But to gain more followers, he started adding fresh and more entertaining content to the point his channel has more than 4,000 followers.
(View his channel here.)
“It’s a lot more enjoyable to watch,” said the 17-year-old from the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill. “I found that just straight golf videos got boring after a while. I wanted to switch it up and make it interesting. Changing up the content brings in new people.”
The process certainly worked. Giantsopoulos, who is competing in his first USGA championship this week, earned a scholarship to Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he’ll play on the men’s golf team this fall. He also plans to continue his YouTube channel while in college.
“I hope to be the only golfer on YouTube to have that kind of niche to their videos,” said Giantsopoulos, whose younger sister Elaine qualified for last year’s Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club. “It’s definitely a cool idea. We’ll just see where it goes.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.