PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Russell Henley is pacing the amateurs at the U.S. Open, but two of the other 10 players in the field, Morgan Hoffman and Henley's Georgia teammate Hudson Swafford could be right there with him, if not for disastrous finishes. Hoffman and Swafford took a lesson from Pebble Beach, and the golf gods over the closing holes - Hoffman making a quadruple bogey 9 on the 18th, and Swafford going from 1-under to 5-over as holes 8 and 9 stung him hard (He started on No. 10, then finished double-quad after walking off of the famous par 3 seventh green 1-under par, and 1 stroke out of the lead in a major - ouch.).
Those finishes, and fast descents down the leaderboard made Henley's relatively quite 2-over 73 look very good, and the No. 20 ranked amateur in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com World Rankings will no doubt come out firing on Friday morning.
Hand it to Hoffman for taking the quad in stride. He suffered every malady possible including a tree kicking his ball into the Pacific, hitting it there again, and a plugged lie in the bunker, where it took him two to get out, before smiling and looking up to the golf gods as he holed out from 10 feet on Pebble Beach’s famed final hole for a quadruple-bogey 9, a closing blemish on an impressive round that at one point had the amateur in a tie for the lead. He finished with 75.
“It just felt good to finally get it in the hole,” Hoffmann said with a laugh. “After nine shots, it’s nice to see the ball go in.”
Hoffmann wasn’t the only amateur to suffer a final-hole quadruple bogey after tying the lead. Georgia’s Hudson Swafford was 2 under par through 10 holes, but played his final two holes in 6 over to shoot 76. Swafford suffered a lost ball on his approach to No. 9, his final hole, and three-putted from about 4 feet.
“That’s the difference between a pro and an amateur right there,” Swafford said. “I should’ve punched back out in the fairway, but I tried to make something happen. Just two bad shots really all day.”
Hoffmann, a member of last year’s U.S. Walker Cup team, was 2 under par after 10 holes Thursday thanks to birdies on three of Pebble Beach’s most difficult holes – Nos. 2, 8 and 10. He was under par again after making a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 15.
Hoffmann grinned ear-to-ear after plucking his ball out of the hole on the 15th, acknowledging cries of “Go Morgan!” and “Go Cowboys!” It was impressive that he was still able to smile after the final hole.
He was even par after a bogey at the long par-3 17th. His drive on No. 18 found the fairway but was behind two trees. He tried to punch a 3-iron under the limbs, but the ball struck a limb and bounced into the water. After taking a drop, Hoffmann pulled his approach into the water. He dropped, then hit his next shot into the greenside bunker. He chunked the first bunker shot from a plugged lie, then blasted out to 10 feet and made the putt.
“If you’re going to shoot 75, I’d rather do it that way,” said Oklahoma State assistant coach Alan Bratton, who caddied for Hoffmann. “The kid got to feel what it felt like to be in contention at the U.S. Open all day, and he’s playing well enough that he can put up a good number tomorrow.”
Hoffmann joked, “It happens. I just felt like Tin Cup.”
Swafford could relate to the feeling, but just making the Open is impressive considering he redshirted this past college season because of shoulder surgery last August. He didn’t begin hitting balls until February, and didn’t play 18 holes until April. Except for a small tournament at his home club, the U.S. Open local and sectional qualifiers were his only tournaments before the Open. He shot 66-66 to win a sectional qualifier in Memphis, Tenn., that included several PGA Tour players.
Swafford’s Georgia teammate, Russell Henley, is the low amateur after opening with a 73.
Hoffmann, 20, was a second-team All-American this past college season after being a first-teamer and the NCAA Division I freshman of the year in his first season at Oklahoma State. In his only other start in a PGA or Nationwide tour event, he tied for eighth in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational on the Nationwide Tour.
He qualified for the U.S. Open by shooting a pair of 67s June 7 in a sectional qualifier in Memphis, one day after his Oklahoma State team suffered a heartbreaking loss in the final match of the NCAA Championship at The Honors Course near Chattanooga, Tenn. To see all amateur scores, click on the "results" link below and use the "amateur scores" clickbox.
Sean Martin of Golfweek contributed to this story