Austin Eckroat (USGA)
ANDOVER, Kan. – Austin Eckroat, 18, of Edmond, Okla., fired his second consecutive bogey-free 66 Tuesday to earn medalist honors in the 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at the par-71, 7,049-yard Flint Hills National Golf Club. Eckroat finished at 10-under-par 132 and matched the championship’s stroke-play scoring record.
Eckroat, who advanced to the Round of 16 last year, tied the mark set by James Vargas, who also totaled 132 at Oak Hills Country Club in 2001.
“You don’t really hear of a lot of the medalists winning the match play, but that would be cool to do both,” said Eckroat, who will attend Oklahoma State University in the fall. “It’s not the main trophy but it is cool to see your name up top knowing that I am playing well going into the next couple of days.”
Brandon Mancheno, 17, of Jacksonville, Fla., had an opportunity to share stroke-play medalist honors but made a double bogey on his final hole, the par-4 ninth, and finished two strokes behind Eckroat at 8-under 134. Mancheno, who established the course record with a sizzling 63 in the first round, sent his tee shot, with a 3-wood, into the left rough, then missed the green to the right and hit his chip through the green.
“I knew I needed a par to tie,” said Mancheno, who made birdie on the par-3 eighth to tie for the lead at 10 under when he hit an 8-iron to within a foot. “It was a little disappointing, but there’s another tournament to be played over the next few days.”
Mancheno, who made four birdies on his inward nine, was attempting to become the fourth player to earn medalists honor twice. He turned in the best stroke-play score at Colleton River Plantation Club in 2015.
The U.S. Junior Amateur consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Saturday at 7 a.m. CDT.
Meanwhile, Eckroat made several good pars, including a 20-foot putt on No. 12, his third hole, and converted an up-and-down from short of the green on the par-4 seventh.
“Two completely opposite rounds,” said Eckroat, who has won two Class 6A state high school championships. “Yesterday, I hit it really well and today I had a lot of par saves.”
Eckroat did make three birdies on his outward nine and struck a sand wedge to within 2 feet on the par-5 18th. He punctuated his round with an eagle at No. 5 by blasting a 270-yard 3-wood to set up an 8-foot putt from above the hole.
Cole Ponich, 17, of Salt Lake City, Utah, tied Mancheno at 134. He took advantage of Flint Hills National’s par 5s and added a tap-in birdie on the drivable par-4 sixth to card a 69 following his first-round 65.
“I think it really sets up well for me because the strength of my game is that I hit it straight off the tee, and not hitting fairways here can really punish you because the rough is pretty thick,” said Ponich, who failed to qualify for match play in his first Junior Amateur last year. “The greens are fair; there are funnels and if you miss it, it punishes you.”
John Pak, 18, of Scotch Plains, N.J.; Joshua Armstrong, 18, of Australia; and Eugene Hong, 17, of Orlando, Fla., finished in a three-way tie at 7-under 135. Hong advanced to the U.S. Junior Amateur semifinal round in 2015 and 2016, and Pak was a semifinalist last year.
Pak, who shot a second-round 66 to reach match play for the fourth year in a row, eagled his second hole, the par-5 11th by hitting a 255-yard 3-wood to within 15 feet. He capped his play by dropping a 40-foot birdie putt on the ninth. Hong finished on the same hole and sank a 75-yard pitch with a 60-degree wedge for a birdie after getting into trouble off the tee. He earlier made three consecutive birdies on holes 3, 4 and 5 en route to a 67.
Armstrong, who played his way to the Round of 16 at this year’s Australian Amateur and tied for fifth in the Australian Boys Amateur, accumulated eight birdies in posting a 66 to go with his first-round 69. A double-bogey on the par-4 second kept him from going lower.
“The better you play in bigger events, like this one and the Aussie Amateur, the more confidence you get out of them,” he said. “You start thinking that you are starting to learn how to contend at this level.”
Fellow Australian and defending champion Min Woo Lee and Matthew Wolff, 18, of Agoura Hills, Calif., each had a 67 to post a 36-hole score of 136. Lee keyed his round with some good swings on the par 3s that resulted in birdies. He hit a 6-iron to within 12 feet on No. 4 and a 7-iron to within 18 feet on No. 8. Wollf birdied six of his opening 10 holes. His wedge play set up short birdie putts on holes 2 and 3 before he later nipped a 56-degree wedge to within 6 feet on the par-3 10th.
“Keep it in play and hitting putts harder,” said Lee about what he learned in stroke play that will help him in match play. “The greens aren’t running that fast, so you have to be aggressive. I’ve left about 20 to 30 percent of my putts short.”
Cole Hammer’s rounds of 68 and 70 advanced him to match play for the third consecutive year. Hammer, 17, of Houston, Texas, nearly aced the 203-yard, par-3 17th with a 5-iron before settling for an 8-foot birdie putt. Last year’s runner-up, Noah Goodwin, 17, of Corinth, Texas, also moved forward with a 70 to finish at at 1-under 141, while hometown favorite Wells Padgett, 18, of Wichita, Kan., safely reached match play at 3-under 139.
“I love match play, I just love it,” said Hammer, who competed in the U.S. Open at age 15 two years ago at Chambers Bay. “It’s a different type of golf, and I feel like I’m really solid at it.”
Teddy Tetak, 18, of Slovakia, had the low round of the day with a 6-under 65 after opening with a 74. He started with an eagle on No. 1 and added six birdies. Tyler Jones, 16, of Westerville, Ohio, registered the second hole-in-one of the championship by using a 6-iron at the 190-yard, par-3 14th.
Ten players who tied for 64th place at 6-over 148 played off for the final match-play berth. Skyler Eubank, 17, of Meridan, Idaho, advanced with a birdie putt on the third playoff hole. The first round of match play begins on Wednesday at 8 a.m.
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