BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Curtis Luck, of Perth, Australia, will meet Brad Dalke, of Norman, Okla., Sunday in the 36-hole final match of the 116th U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club.
Luck, 20, the winner of the 2016 Western Australian Open on the Australasian Tour, defeated home-state hero Nick Carlson, 19, of Hamilton, in 21 holes, in the first semifinal match on the South Course, which has hosted six U.S. Opens.
Luck will attempt to become the third Australian to win the U.S. Amateur, following Walter J. Travis (1900, 1901, 1903)y and Nick Flanagan (2003).
“It's amazing,” said Luck of advancing to the final match. “Midway through the round, I was starting to think twice about whether I was going to be there tomorrow, but just over the moon right now. I am so excited for tomorrow.”
In the other semifinal match on Saturday on the course called “The Monster” by Ben Hogan in his 1951 U.S. Open win, Dalke, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, defeated Jonah Texeira, 20, of Porter Ranch, Calif., 3 and 2.
Carlson, a University of Michigan sophomore, started quickly by winning holes 2 and 3, then lost the fifth when Luck made birdie. Carlson rebounded to win the eighth with a par for another 2-up lead.
Luck, No. 7 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, responded with wins on the 10th and 11th holes to square the match.
Carlson followed with a winning birdie from 6 feet above the hole on the par-3 13th, to the delight of the large partisan crowd.
“They were clapping for good shots; they were clapping, regardless of the player,” said Luck of the supporters for Carlson. “It's always fun to play in front of a large crowd. You get a bit of adrenaline and a lot of excitement whilst you're out there.”
Carlson, who was playing in this first USGA championship, regained the lead with a 15-foot birdie putt set up by a deft approach shot to 2 feet.
The 16th and 17th holes were halved with par and bogey, respectively.
Leading 1 up on 18th tee, Carlson’s drive hit a tree and finished under it, with little room for a full stroke. He tried an opposite (left-handed) chip, but he couldn’t recover, which led to a losing double bogey to send the match to extra holes.
“You don't have to do much wrong, and he really didn't do a whole lot wrong all day,” Luck said. “One shot cost him quite severely in the end. But, I feel for him.”
On the first extra hole (10th of the South course), Luck, a 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur semifinalist, holed a critical 11-foot par putt to stave off elimination. Both players birdied the par-4 11th after sticking their approaches within 5 feet.
Luck, who never led until the final margin, then reached the par-5 12th hole in two with a 3-wood from 260 yards, which landed on the green 45 feet from the hole. Following Luck’s conceded birdie putt, Carlson missed a 24-foot birdie putt to clinch the win for Luck.
“I was in the top four. Are you kidding me?,” Carlson said of advancing to the semifinals. “Seventy-five hundred people have tried to get into this tournament through qualifiers and whatnot, and then 312 to start the week. Are you kidding me? That's like the greatest thing ever.”
Dalke, the only five-time first-team Rolex Junior All-American, rebounded from a 2-down deficit through six holes. Texeira, a first-team all-Pac 12 freshman choice from the University of Southern California, bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes, which squared the match.
After Texeira missed a birdie putt to regain the lead on the par-5 12th, Dalke seized control of the match with three consecutive wins on 13-15 and sealed the match with a par on 16.
“At the beginning of this week, I don't think I was expecting it,” Dalke said of making the final. “I knew I was playing well and knew I could do it, but now that I'm finally here and I'm a finalist, it's awesome. It's a dream come true.”
Dalke, whose parents were athletes at Oklahoma (mother Kay played golf and father Bill was linebacker for the national championship football team in 1975), celebrated his 19th birthday Friday with a quarterfinal win.
Both finalists, if they remain an amateur, receive an exemption from qualifying for the 2017 U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis., June 15-18, as well as a likely invitation to the next Masters Tournament and The Open Championship, conducted by The R&A.
All quarterfinalists are exempt from qualifying for the 2017 U.S. Amateur Championship at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., Aug. 14-20. Semifinalists are exempt from qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links.
Those exemptions were well received by Texeira, a Southern California native.
“I've played Riviera a lot because USC gives three memberships to the players, so I go out there maybe five, six times a week,” said Texeira. “And they still have all of the shirts and the stuff they sell in the pro shop, it's “2017 U.S. Amateur,” so, man, I've got to make it. I've got to make it this year.”
The 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play, followed by six rounds of match play, concluding with Sunday’s 36-hole championship. The championship final begins at 9 a.m. EDT, with the second 18 scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m.The U.S. Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.