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THE WOODLANDS, Texas (July 23, 2014) – The round of 64 at the 67th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship was held Wednesday at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course, and true to form, there were upsets, comebacks and a couple matches that went overtime.
It was a sign of things to come when the first match of the day, between co-medalist Sean Crocker, of Zimbabwe, and relatively unheralded Dylan McCabe, of Sioux City, Iowa, came to the par-5 18th hole all square. A few holes before that, it looked like McCabe might pull out the victory after winning four straight from Nos. 11 to 15 to go from 2 down to 2 up.
Crocker, however, showed his resolve in winning the 16th and 17th to pull all square, and when McCabe had a shaky three-putt on the 18th for bogey, all Crocker had to do was knock in a 2-footer for par.
“I slowed myself down on 16, got a chance to get some food, grab a drink and take as much time as I could to relax myself,” said a relieved Crocker. “Dylan was such a great competitor. The whole match, even if I got up a hole, he was always right there. Every kid that makes match play is one of the top 64 juniors in the country.”
Indeed, several of the lower-seeded players used the round of 64 to show that they belong with the best in a national championship.
The three biggest upsets in terms of the seeding for match play were Joshua McCarthy (60), of Danville, Calif., defeating Dominic Foos (5), of Germany, 2 and 1; Andreas Halvorsen (58), of Norway, over Ryan Ruffels (7), of Australia, 5 and 4; and Will Dickson (56), of Providence, R.I., edging out Cameron Young (9), of Scarborough, N.Y., 2 and 1.
However, the result that most surprised many was 13th-seeded Brad Dalke, of Hobart, Okla., falling to 52nd-seeded Anton Serafini, 15, of Lake Mary, Fla. Dalke is one of the top juniors in the country and won the 2013 AJGA Ping Invitational, while Serafini, by his own admission, came into his first USGA championship well under the radar.
“My goal was to get off to a good start because I’m not sure if he’s ever heard of me before, just to show him that I’m pretty good too and put a little bit of pressure on,” said Serafini. “On the first hole, I was about 89 yards away and I hit it to 2 feet, so that was a good start, exactly what I was looking for.” Serafini never trailed en route to a 3-and-2 victory.
Not all of the higher seeds ran into trouble. Co-medalist Sam Horsfield, of England, Davis Riley, of Hattiesburg, Miss., Will Grimmer, of Cincinnati, and Braden Thornberry, of Olive Branch, Miss., enjoyed relatively comfortable victories and moved on to the round of 32.
The par-5 18th hole, with a large pond bordering the left side of the fairway and an undulating green, was the scene of memorable drama today. Two players who found themselves just off the back of the green, facing a testy downhill chip toward the hole, left the green pumping their fists in celebration.
First up was John Pak, of Scotch Plains, N.J. After leading for most of his match against Blake Dyer, of St. Petersburg, Fla., Pak flew the green with his third shot from the fairway. Dyer was approximately 8 feet from the hole, putting for birdie. Pak took out his trusty 56-degree wedge, gave the shot one last look and landed it perfectly on the green before it rolled downhill 25 feet into the hole for a birdie.
“My up-and-downs were pretty incredible and my chipping has been pretty good this week,” said Pak. “So I took out the pin and I was pretty confident, and it just dropped.”
Dyer then missed his birdie putt to send the match to extra holes, sealing the 1-up win for Pak.
Pak’s dramatic shot was merely a prelude to further heroics. Roughly three hours later, Ashwin Arasu, of San Diego, would also come to the 18th hole all square, against Jorge Villar, of Mexico, after mounting an impressive comeback from 2 down with wins on the 16th and 17th holes.
On 18, Arasu’s second shot from 215 yards, with a 4-iron, carried too far and settled over the green near where Pak’s ball had come to rest. With Villar facing a 15-foot putt for birdie, Arasu followed the instructions from his caddie for the delicate chip.
“He told me just to land it about two feet on the green and the ball should get down there all by itself,” said a stunned Arasu. “It did exactly what he said.”
The ball went into the hole for an eagle-3 and a walk-off victory, prompting a furious set of celebratory fist pumps from Arasu and then a cascade of tears when he realized what he had just done.
“I didn’t have much hope there for a long time because nothing was going that well,” he said. “After the ball went in and I realized I won the match, the tears just came and I couldn’t stop them. I’ve never cried before after being happy. It just kind of happened.”
Other notable victories today included 2013 U.S. Junior Amateur quarterfinalist Zecheng Dou, of the People’s Republic of China, defeating Charlie Miller, of Jackson, Miss.; 5 and 4; five-time U.S. Junior Amateur competitor William Zalatoris, of Plano, Texas, getting past Caleb Proveaux, of Lexington, S.C., 6 and 5; and Eric Bae, of Cary, N.C., who set a new championship nine-hole scoring record Tuesday with a 29, continuing his momentum in a win over Peter Jones, of Owatonna, Minn.
Today’s winners advance to the round of 32, which begins at 7 a.m. CDT on Thursday. The round of 16 will follow in the afternoon, beginning at 1:00 p.m.
-photo courtesy of USGA
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