RADFORD, VA (July 1, 2016) -- A pair of Northern Virginians with Atlantic Coast Conference ties will battle for the championship at the 103rd VSGA Amateur Championship Saturday.
Joey Lane (Reston National GC) and Ji Soo Park (1757 GC) won twice on a sun-splashed Friday at the Pete Dye River Course of Virginia Tech to advance to the title match. Lane, a rising senior for the Hokies, will be playing for the championship for the first time. Park, a graduate of the University of Virginia, will be taking his third stab of adding his name to the Schwarzschild Brothers trophy, given to the winner.
Park lost in the 36-hole final to Scott Shingler in 2011, and he fell to four-time champion Brinson Paolini in 2013.
“It would mean a lot to me,” Park said. “I’m very good friends with [two-time champion] Jake Mondy. [Virginia Tech’s] Maclain Huge won last year. When I saw them winning, I knew I really wanted to be up there too. At the beginning of this week, when we received our shirts, I saw all the names [of past champions] and I didn’t see my name up there. This year might be my year. I’m going to go out and play my best to put my name up there.”
He’ll find a formidable foe in Lane, the stroke-play medalist who rallied in both his quarterfinal and semifinal matches. Lane turned both matches around with strong play on holes No. 14 and 15.
In his quarterfinal match against former Radford standout Conner Hayden (The Virginian GC), Lane was down two after the par-4 13th hole. On the par-3 14th, he hit his tee shot within six feet and made birdie to cut the lead in half. On the next hole, he hit a tremendous shot, a pitching wedge out of the rough right of the fairway to within two feet for a tap-in birdie that squared the match.
Lane took the lead with a par on 17 after Hayden made bogey. On 18, both players missed the fairway, but Hayden’s miss was worse. His ball landed in a water hazard near the New River. He was forced to drop, costing him a penalty stroke. Lane’s second shot from up on a hill in the tall grass far left of the fairway skidded past the green and nearly into the river, but the rough right next to the hazard line kept the ball in play. Lane got up and down from there for par, enough to secure the 1-up win.
In Lane’s semifinal match against soon-to-be Virginia Tech teammate Mark Lawrence Jr. (Hermitage CC), the match again turned on No. 14. Lawrence was up one, and his tee shot on the par-3 hole made the green, but well short of the hole. Lane put his tee shot within about 15 feet and two putted for par. Lawrence tried to do the same, but his par putt lipped out, squaring the match.
Lane sank a birdie on No. 15 to take the lead, and he won the match 2 and 1 with an up-and-down for par on No. 17.
“Not a bad place to pick up a couple of wins,” Lane said of the hole 14-15 swing. “I played 14 well today. Fifteen’s a pretty hard hole, so two birdies, I’ll take it any day.”
Lawrence, a finalist last year at Farmington CC, reached the semifinals with a 6 and 5 win over the youngest remaining player in the field, 15-year-old Drew Brockwell (CC at the Highlands).
Park grinded his way to a 1-up win over current Radford player Ben Ramsey (Fincastle on the Mountain). He got into a serious rhythm against Trey Wren (Cedar Point CC) in the semifinals. Wren, a rising sophomore at Temple University, was as hot as anybody in the field coming into the semifinal match. He took out Justin Young (Ballyhack GC) in the quarterfinals 4 and 3, a match in which he birdied his first four holes.
Park played his best golf of the week against Wren, though. Park was 5 under for the day when he secured a 5 and 3 victory with a birdie on No. 15.
“I was 2 under and lost 5 and 3,” Wren said. “It’s hard to beat seven birdies in 15 holes. He birdied every other hole, basically. I knew it was going to be tough the second I saw his name in my bracket. He’s so good. He just didn’t make any mistakes. I made two bad swings today, in the morning match and in the afternoon. There’s not much else I could have done.”
Wren left the New River Valley proud of his week, though. He shot 75 at a qualifier on his home course at Cedar Point and grabbed the 14th of 14 qualifying positions. Wren finished tied for second in stroke-play qualifying this week and won three matches, giving him a huge boost heading into the rest of the summer.
“I learned a ton about myself,” Wren said. “I drove the ball better than I have, probably ever. I was hitting it farther than I ever have, and very, very straight. That really helped me. I putted well. I did everything well. I hit a few bad chip shots here or there, but that’s going to happen in this rough. I played great, but I just didn’t win this afternoon match.”
Park joked all week about being tired in the afternoon, but he held up well playing two matches in each of the last two days in his first full tournament back after undergoing right thigh surgery last year. Lane, who hasn’t played much competitive match play since his days as a junior, said he took to the format well this week, mostly because it’s what he plays when he’s playing with friends.
The 36-hole format for the championship match should take the fluke factor out of determining a champion, Lane said.
“There’s not as much pressure on those opening holes, and you can kind of settle in a little easier,” Lane said. “It’s nice, in a 36-hole match, the guy who plays better will win. There’s a lot more room for error.”
Lawrence, who has made it to at least the quarterfinals of the Amateur the last three years, was disappointed in the loss, for sure. But he and Lane have quickly become friends, even if Friday was the first time they had actually played together. They’ll be on the same side plenty next year as teammates at Tech.
“Joey’s a great guy. He has a lot of talent, and he’s playing really, really well,” Lawrence said. “I hope he goes out there and wins. Back to back Tech champions? That would be pretty awesome.”
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