by Ryan Lavner
ADA, Mich. (July 21, 2010) – After the text messages stopped rolling in, after an hour of shooting hoops in the driveway, Gavin Hall retreated to the basement of his host family’s house and relaxed, finally. Shattering records turned out to be more exhausting than he anticipated.
“I enjoyed it last night,” said Hall, 15, “but waking up this morning, I knew there was business to take care of.”
One day after shooting a tournament-record 62 in stroke-play qualifying, Hall had little trouble disposing of his first opponent Wednesday afternoon at the U.S. Junior Amateur. Hall birdied five of the first seven holes en route to a 3-and-2 victory over Brandon Ng – just one of several top-ranked players who encountered little resistance in the Round of 64 at Egypt Valley Country Club.
“It’s only going to get harder from here on in,” said defending champion Jordan Spieth, who cruised to a 7-and-5 victory over Chelso Barrett. “The person who wins is the person who still can hit it around and somehow win when having a bad day. I wasn’t sure if that was going to be me today.”
Surely, it wasn’t. Aiming to become only the second player to win multiple Junior Amateur titles, Spieth stuck his approach to a foot on the first hole, then poured in four more birdies before the turn to build a 5-up lead against Barrett. Spieth closed him out with a conceded birdie on 13.
At that juncture, stroke-play medalist Curtis Thompson was fortunate to still have a chance to win.
Thompson hit three of 14 fairways and made only one birdie in his match against short-hitting Scottie Scheffler, who needed a five-hole playoff Tuesday just to advance to match play. Two down with eight to play, Thompson grabbed the lead for the first time on the 15th and two-putted for birdie on the par-5 17th to win, 3 and 1.
His road to the final won’t get any easier. Up next: Denny McCarthy, a recent Virginia commit and Golfweek’s new No. 1-ranked player. He beat Grayson Murray in the opening round, 1 up.
“Upsets are going to happen out here,” Thompson said. “I really fought today.”
Anthony Paolucci, arguably the hottest player in junior golf after two AJGA invitational victories this season, was hovering near the cut line midway through the second round of stroke-play qualifying Tuesday. He appears on track now.
Paolucci made five birdies Wednesday and defeated Dan Slavin, 3 and 1.
“I knew exactly how he felt,” said Paolucci, a Junior Amateur finalist in 2007 as a 14-year-old. “It makes the match that much harder for me because he’s got nothing to lose. He went at every pin today, and that was the best I’ve hit the ball since I’ve been here. I didn’t want to lose a match after hitting it that well.”
As for the woes with his long game, Paolucci said he was burned out after winning the Rolex Tournament of Champions at Blessings Golf Club, one of the most difficult venues ever to host an AJGA invitational. He took a week off, hardly picking up a club, and hadn’t yet recaptured his game when he arrived in Michigan.
“Every golfer goes through ups and downs,” Paolucci said. “I was in one of those lows and I’ve got to get here, play the course, and I feel like I’m a good enough player where I can scramble around and get around even par.
“Those rounds are going to happen, those times when your game isn’t where it needs to be. But it’s a good thing this isn’t a four-round tournament. You make the cut and it’s a whole new tournament.”
Perhaps no one realized that more than Hall.
After signing his card Tuesday for the record-breaking 62, he checked his phone and had about 10 messages, many of which came from his family back home in Pittsford, N.Y. His cell phone kept buzzing the entire night.
“But after that,” Hall said, “I forgot about it. I didn’t dwell on it anymore.”
Asked if he worried about backing up his low round with another good one, Hall replied, “Nah, there’s too many good players here to think about that. Luckily, I was able to continue the ride.”
Others weren’t so fortunate:
• Wilson Bateman, a relative unknown with little experience on the national junior circuit, was the highest-ranked player to lose, falling to Aaron Kunitomo in 20 holes.
• Bobby Wyatt, Golfweek’s No. 2-ranked junior, lost to familiar foil Jorge Fernandez Valdes, 3 and 2. Wyatt, who will attend Alabama in the fall, had a chance to extend the match at the 16th, but three-putted from 15 feet to lose the hole. Valdes also beat Wyatt, 3 and 2, at Shoal Creek in 2008.
• Wyndham Clark, a top-20 player who seemed in line to face Paolucci in the Round of 32, lost to Andrew Fogg, 1 up. Fogg birdied the first hole of an 11-for-7 playoff late Tuesday afternoon to qualify for match play. He took command of the match Wednesday against Clark by winning four holes in a row around the turn.
View results for U.S. Junior Amateur Golf Champonship