U.S. Amateur, Round 1: Five Things to Know
August 13, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif.
By Greg Midland, USGA
The combination of the USGA’s oldest championship with one of the game’s iconic venues has the field of 312 competitors buzzing as the 118th U.S. Amateur begins at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course. During practice rounds over the weekend, many players took time to snap and post photos of what Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson once called “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea in creation.”
However, even the beauty of the Monterey Peninsula can sustain the world’s best amateurs for only so long. They are here for one reason: To compete for the coveted Havemeyer Trophy and join the esteemed list of U.S. Amateur champions dating back to 1895. To have a chance, they first need to make it through two rounds of stroke play and be one of the low 64 to advance to match play, which begins Wednesday.
Here are five things to know as the first round of stroke play unfolds.
Young, Scrappy and Hungry
The average age of the field is just over 22, meaning the majority of players have little to no memory of the last U.S. Amateur held at Pebble, when David Gossett won in 1999. While experience and course knowledge can be virtues, today’s crop of top amateurs believe they can win anywhere, on any course, and have the talent to back it up. Indeed, while there is rarely a clear favorite heading into a U.S. Amateur, this year’s championship seems particularly wide open. Players like Cole Hammer, who won the Western Amateur a little over a week ago, and Zach Bauchou, who just won the Canadian Amateur for the second straight year, are coming in hot. But 39 of the top 50 players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ are here, and history has shown that a relative upstart could upend the bigger names.
Don’t Sleep on Spyglass
Sure, Pebble Beach garners the lion’s share of attention, and will be the venue for all match play rounds of the U.S. Amateur. But stroke-play co-host Spyglass Hill Golf Course, which sits a little over a mile away, is a formidable test that demands the full attention of players. In the 1999 U.S. Amateur, none of the 312 competitors broke par at Spyglass. Spyglass begins with a par five that tumbles down toward rugged sand dunes overlooking the ocean, which provide the setting for the first five holes. The rest of the course weaves through tall Monterey pines, placing a premium on accuracy and precision. Anyone who cards a score anywhere near even-par 72 there will have done very well.
The Ocean Effect
It’s summer on California’s Central Coast, which means…chilly temperatures and occasional fog. The first round began as scheduled at 7:30 a.m. PDT, under overcast skies and low clouds that thankfully did not settle low enough to cause visibility issues or delay play. Intermittent mist and temperatures in the high 50s, however, mean that players may be opting for long pants and pullovers rather than the short sleeves and shorts they are accustomed to wearing in a U.S. Amateur. Over the past week, USGA Championship Director Ben Kimball said that the fog burned off at different times each day – sometimes it was thick enough that it would have prevented play, and other times it wasn’t. With 312 players needing to get through two rounds of stroke play on two courses, everyone is hoping that the coast stays clear.
Dads Who Know Best
Four players in the field are the offspring of fathers who know a thing or two about winning: Thomas Lehman, Gary Nicklaus, Carter Toms and Hayden Wood. Lehman, 23, is the son of 1996 British Open champion Tom Lehman and is a sophomore at Cal Poly; Nicklaus, who at 49 last played in a U.S. Amateur in 2012, is the son of 18-time major champion and two-time U.S. Amateur champion Jack Nicklaus; Toms, a 21-year-old junior at LSU, is the son of 2018 U.S. Senior Open champion David Toms and caddied for his father the first two rounds en route to David’s win in July at The Broadmoor; and Wood, 22, is the son of 1977 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Willie Wood, and Hayden was the stroke-play medalist in last year’s U.S. Amateur at Riviera. While the elder Lehman, Toms and Wood compete on the PGA Tour Champions and Nicklaus tends to his business interests, all four proud papas are cheering on their sons this week.
Since 2013, the top 50 players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking have been exempt into the U.S. Amateur, which has helped to broaden the championship’s reach around the globe. This year, 24 countries are represented, and one of the notable groupings for stroke play puts the champions of the Canadian Amateur (Zach Bauchou), Mexican Amateur (Luis Fernandez Barco) and British Amateur (Jovan Rebula) together for the first two rounds. Rebula, the nephew of Ernie Els, is seeking to become the first player to win the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur in the same year since Bob Dickson in 1967.
Greg Midland is the director of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.