LORTON, Va. – Austin Smotherman, Zecheng Dou and James Erkenbeck were among eight golfers to win two matches on Thursday at Laurel Hill Golf Club to reach the quarterfinals of the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
Smotherman, 19, of Loomis, Calif., used a run of three straight birdies at the 7,022-yard, par-70 course, starting on No. 5, to oust 51-year-old Sean Knapp, 4 and 3. Knapp was vying to become the oldest champion of the APL and first mid-amateur (25 years or older) to win the championship since Tim Hogarth in 1996.
“I’ve heard a lot about [Knapp] – I mean he’s played in 14 U.S. Amateurs,” said Smotherman. “But you can only control yourself, so that’s what I focused on – though it does feel good to beat a good player.”
All square through four holes, Smotherman used his length off the tee to advantage on the decisive stretch. Consistently outdriving Knapp by some 30 yards, Smotherman hit a 5-iron from 205 yards to 6 feet to set up a birdie on the 500-yard, par-4 fifth. With Knapp in trouble to the right on the 495-yard, par-4 sixth, he made a 15-foot birdie putt. And for the second day in a row, Smotherman drove the green at the 316-yard, par-4 seventh and two-putted for his third consecutive birdie to go 3 up.
Smotherman will next face Erkenbeck, who, at 23, is the oldest player remaining in the field.
After defeating Brandon Cigna in 19 holes in his morning match, Erkenbeck made quick work of 22-year-old Mario Clemens, 5 and 4, in the afternoon. The San Diego native chipped in to save par at the first, halved the second to remain all-square, then won four straight holes to take control of the match.
“I hit one close on [No.] 5 to go 3 up, but the key hole was the sixth,” said Erkenbeck, the 2012 APL medalist. “We were both in trouble off the tee and had 6-footers for par. I made and [Clemens] missed, which really put me in a good spot.”
Despite the big advantage, Erkenbeck stayed with the same approach that got him into the favorable position.
“I never feel comfortable no matter how big the lead is,” said Erkenbeck, who is playing in his fourth APL. “You know not to give away holes, but at the same time you don’t want to change too much of what you’re doing because that’s what got you the lead in the first place.”
In a battle of the two youngest players who entered the 156-player field, Dou edged Sam Horsfield, 1 up. Neither player, both age 16, led by more than one hole the entire match. Trailing by one, Dou eagled the par-5 ninth and birdied the short par-4 10th to take his first lead of the afternoon. Horsfield squared it with a par on No. 13, but Dou regained a 1-up advantage with a par on the 178-yard 16th.
Both players were just off the par-5 18th green in two. Dou played first and chipped to 10 inches for a conceded birdie. Horsfield, needing to hole his eagle bid to continue the match, gave his chip plenty of pace, but the ball veered to the right just before the hole and it missed on the low side.
“This is my best match ever,” said Dou, who was four under par with the usual match-play concessions. “We barely had any missed shots. It was fun because I’ve been playing with Sam since I was 7 years old, so we know each other well. This is a great memory.”
Dou, of the People’s Republic of China, will play Oklahoma State sophomore Jordan Niebrugge in the quarterfinals. Niebrugge, of Mequon, Wis., has not trailed in any of his three matches thus far and has played just 44 holes – the fewest of any player remaining in the championship.
The quarterfinal round of match play begins Friday at 7 a.m. EDT. The winners will advance to the semifinals, which are scheduled to begin Friday at 12:30 p.m. EDT. All quarterfinalists are exempt into the 2014 APL. The 36-hole final is scheduled for Saturday.