U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
What's New is Also Familiar for Medalist Eckroat at Flint Hills
July 19, 2017 | Andover, Kan.
By Stuart Hall
Austin Eckroat arrived at the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship looking for that little something extra that all golfers pursue.
So, with instructor Ryan Rody in town, the pair went to work last weekend at Flint Hills National Golf Club. On Saturday, they walked the course and crafted a plan on how to play the course. On Sunday, Rody tweaked his 18-year-old student’s swing and putting mechanics.
“At one point, we were looking at each other and saying, ‘Yeah, that’s it,’” said Rody, the director of golf and instruction at Gaillardia Country Club in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Eckroat went out and posted a pair of bogey-free, 5-under 66s for a 132 total that earned him medalist honors by two strokes over Brandon Mancheno and Cole Ponich.
“He is fearless and confident and not afraid to go low,” Rody said. “He gets to 5 or 6 under and it doesn’t faze him. That’s a unique trait. The lower he goes, the more exciting the opportunity becomes and he wants to keep going lower.”
While going low is ideal for stroke play, the championship now switches to match play, where everyone starts fresh each round. Eckroat went off first Wednesday at 8 a.m. CDT against playoff survivor Skyler Eubank.
That is where Rody’s vast experience of Flint Hills may prove handy for Eckroat.
Rody’s father was one of the earliest members of the club, which opened in 1997. At the time, Rody did not meet the minimum age of 16 to play, so he served as a caddie. When Rody became of age, he played the course at every opportunity.
“They have added length to the original design, along with a few other nuances and trees,” Rody said. “Overall, though, the course hasn’t changed much.”
Eckroat gleaned from Rody little tidbits such as proper sight lines off the tee and the highest-percentage green quadrants to hit.
“We were just strategizing about what to hit off the tees and how to attack a couple of the pins, like at number nine, which had a back-left pin [on Tuesday],” said Eckroat of a green that sits hard against water that runs down its left side. “There is no reason to even take it close there because you can go right and it will funnel left. So, just little slopes that he knew about that I didn’t.”
The Eckroat-Rody relationship began nearly 18 months ago when the former was searching for instruction closer to his Edmond, Okla., home. Rody was recommended by noted Dallas-based instructor Cameron McCormick, for whom Rody had previously worked with at Brook Hollow Golf Club and who was instructing Eckroat.
There are a few things that Eckroat has figured out on his own, though, like how to play Tom Fazio-designed courses.
In a combined five appearances at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley and the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association’s 6-A Championship – played at the Fazio-designed Sage Valley Golf Club in Graniteville, S.C., and Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., respectively – Eckroat has two wins, two second-place finishes and a fourth-place finish.
“I think they set up well for me,” said Eckroat. “They are ball-strikers’ courses and that fits my game.”
His early performance in the U.S. Junior Amateur’s stroke-play portion is further proof.
“I think why Austin will have success at Flint is because it reminds him a little of Karsten Creek,” said Rody of the home course for the Oklahoma State University golf team, which Eckroat will join in the fall. “They both have zoysiagrass fairways and bentgrass greens. There is a comfort level he has, knowing how to play on those conditions.”
And there is every reason to believe Eckroat will continue to flourish this week.
“He knows who he is and what he can do,” Rody said. “That’s a tough combination to beat.”
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.