VALENCIA, CA (June 24, 2016) -- All's fair in love and ... golf? It seems that way at the 105th California Amateur Championship, as the two gentlemen very likely playing the best golf of the tournament have advanced to the finals, set to be held Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. It will be a 36-hole affair.
First to advance to the finals was Shintaro Ban of UNLV, who put together one of the best putting performances of the week Friday, defeating 18-year-old Peter Kuest 3 & 2.
"I had been struggling with my putting most of the week, but today I just told my caddie I was going to try something different," said Ban. "After I made a couple, I built that trust and had confidence in my putting. I shocked myself, I'll tell you that."
Ban took his first lead of the match with a birdie on the sixth hole, breaking an All Square tie that had lasted throughout the first five holes. It was a lead that flirted between 1 and 3 the rest of the match, but one that Ban never relinquished, much in part due to his stellar putting. A birdie on the par-3, 16th hole sealed the deal, and put Ban in the finals. For Ban, winning would be extra special, as his brother, Shotaro, won the event last year at Lake Merced GC.
"It would be really nice to have my name under his," said Ban. "It would be a dream come true."
Earlier in the day, Ban defeated reigning SCGA Public Links Champion Sean Birren 5 and 3 in the quarterfinals, keeping his legs fresh and avoiding holes 17 and 18 in both Friday rounds. In fact, his quarterfinal match against Birren was the first time since stoke play Tuesday that Ban had played even the 16th hole, having won his match play battles 6 & 5, 4 & 3, 5 & 3 and 3 & 2.
But he won't have a cakewalk in the finals, as his opponent is on a two-week tear. Hidetoshi Yoshihara, who earned an exemption into the California Amateur two weeks ago by winning the CIF State High School Championship, has been a front runner all week, looking in control of his game and his putter. Yoshihara, who is UCLA-bound in the Fall, defeated fellow Pac-12 golfer Sebastian Crampton in the semifinals 2 & 1. After losing the first hole with a bogey, Yoshihara quickly erased the deficit on the second hole and never looked back, maintaining a small lead throughout the rest of the match.
But things did get interesting towards the end, as Yoshihara appeared to be in cruise control, holding a 2 up lead entering the par-3 16th hole. His opponent went right of the green, and chunked his chip shot about two feet to the fringe. Yoshihara was set with a four-foot par putt awaiting, and unless Crampton holed his 15-footer from the fringe, that par putt would be for the win.
But Crampton did the unthinkable, holing the putt and putting the pressure back on Yoshihara to not let his lead fall to 1. Yoshihara responded, finding the center of the hole and going dormie 2. He would win with a par on the 17th hole.
"I've been hitting the ball well all week, and putting well when I've needed to," said Yoshihara. "It's an honor to have earned an exemption into this event and I'm thrilled to have made it this far. I never expected it."
Despite having just graduated from high school, Yoshihara has knocked out some major collegiate players already this week, including Brandon Tsujimoto of UC Riverside earlier Friday. Prior, he had defeated Frankling Huang of Stanford in the Round of 32 and Roman Aragon of Saint Mary's in the Round of 16.
Saturday's 36-hole final will begin at 7:30 a.m., with the final 18 holes set to tee off at 12:30 p.m.