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Upset at sunset: Squires defeats Wu to end long day at Pinehurst
Austin Squires shakes Brandon Wu's hand (AGC/Kyle Rector)
Austin Squires shakes Brandon Wu's hand (AGC/Kyle Rector)

PINEHURST, N.C. – Austin Squires likes to know where he stands after each hole. It’s what makes him so tough in a match-play setting. The slate wipes clean, and he can charge the next hole again – just like he did in the dusk Wednesday evening on the closing hole at Pinehurst No. 2.

The U.S. Amateur is only three days old and Squires, a recent Cincinnati graduate, already has had three brushes with death. He wasn’t even sure he’d make the match-play bracket after opening rounds of 70-75 in stroke play. His second chance came in the form of a 27-man playoff for the final three spots. Squires was the last man through. His prize? A first-round match against medalist Brandon Wu.

Asked if he believes there’s such a thing as an upset in this event, Squires, ranked No. 146 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, hesitated. His 2-up defeat of Wu would certainly qualify as that, regardless of the fact that Wu never led in the match.

“For some reason, I thrive in match play,” said Squires, a quarterfinalist here a year ago. “I don’t know what it is. Just the fact that each hole is a new hole.”

Squires was 2 up on the 17th tee and landed one safely on the green at the downhill par 3. Wu nestled his to 4 feet and drained the putt to buy himself an extra hole.

“It was 8-iron; 176 pin, but really just a perfect number,” Wu said. “I mean, striking my irons all day, that looked so good.”

That’s when Squires wiped the slate clean. Wu missed his final drive right in the trees, Squires pumped his up the left center and the rest is history. Squires will move on to another long day.

“It’s a huge confidence boost beating Brandon Wu. He’s so good and he’s coming off an incredible summer so I knew I had my hands full today,” he said. Squires' summer has not been to a caliber that suited him. He missed the cut at the North & South Amateur and the Western Amateur over the past six weeks.

Squires had a much more stressful morning, playing four holes over the course of three hours, and at a snail’s pace. Players dropped off few by few, but Squires kept a chin-up attitude about that, too.

“I kind of enjoyed watching the golf,” he said.

He is here this week because of an exemption he earned as a quarterfinalist at last year’s event in Pebble Beach. There’s a tinge of sadness in his voice when he talks about his upcoming professional career.

“I wish I could stay an amateur forever, but I want to make a career out of golf,” he said. “Not a lot of money in amateur golf.”

The carrot that truly brought him to Pinehurst? The winner at the end of the week is traditionally invited to play the Masters. Squires couldn’t pass up that possibility. It’s not defining his tournament, but it’s there.

At the start of this week, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas spoke to all competitors. He grouped the U.S. Amateur field into three types of players: Those expecting to win, those expecting to make match play, and those just happy to be here. Squires put himself in the middle group.

“I wasn’t coming off my best performances but I feel I’ve found some good momentum, and we’ll see where it takes me.”

ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur

The U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship, was first played in 1895 at Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island. The event, which has no age restriction, is open to those with a Handicap Index of 2.4 or lower. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. It is the pre-eminent amateur competition in the world. Applications are typically placed online, starting the third week in April at www.usga.org.

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