Western Amateur medalist Norman Xiong (U. of Oregon photo)
GLENCOE, Illinois (August 3, 2017) -- Mother Nature, with a pair of weather delays totaling more than two hours, couldn’t stop Norman Xiong from going low in the third round of the 115th Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Illinois.
The final group didn’t tee off their fourth round until 4:20 p.m Central, and just finished before dark.
Just a year after winning a major junior title at the Junior PGA Championship, the Californian showed he was ready to face the top ranked players in the world (63 of the top 100 are here) by posting eight birdies and shooting a 5-under 66 in his first 18 and following that with a 6-under 65 in his second 18 to earn medalist honors and top seed.
“I can’t believe it,” said Xiong, a sophomore at Oregon. “I didn’t expect this being so far back to start the day. My main goal was to get into match play. If I put together two solid rounds, I knew I had a chance at the top five, but I didn’t expect to win.”
One shot back was Brad Dalke, the Oklahoma standout that was runner-up in the U.S. Amateur in 2016, and sank the winning putt in May at the NCAA Division I National Championship, securing a title for the Sooners. Dalke was in good shape to take the top spot going into the final nine, but bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16 led to a 1-over 72. He did have a chance to tie Xiong with a birdie on No. 18, but he couldn't convert his 20-foot putt.
As displayed at Rich Harvest Farm CC last year at the NCAA, Dalke is a tough customer in match play, and we know he has his eye on a possible Walker Cup position for Team USA.
(The Walker Cup will be contested Sept 9-10 at Los Angeles CC and this year's team won't be announced until the end of the U.S. Amateur, which comes up August 14-20).
The 36-hole leader Ruben Sondjaja fell down leaderboard - shooting a 3-over in his second round of the day, which included a dreaded snowman (a quadruple bogey 8) on his final hole. Sondjaja was 15-under through 71 holes after holing out from a greenside bunker at No. 17. The recent Iowa State graduate then hit two tee balls out of bounds on No. 18. He sits T3 at 11-under, disappointed by losing the opportunity to claim medalist honors in such a prestigious event, but comfortably positioned as the Sweet Sixteen bracket is determined.
Joining Sondjaja in third are a pair of Nicks: Nick Hardy of Northbrook, Illinois (and the University of Illinois) and Nick Voke of Auckland, New Zealand (and Iowa State).
Fellow Aussies Dylan Perry and Min Woo Lee battled to stay in the top 16. Perry finished T9 at 9-under under, while Lee sat T14 at 8-under, where 4 players are going to wrestle for the last three spots of match play at the crack of dawn Friday morning.
But it was Xiong who made the biggest Thursday moves thanks to a birdie barrage when it mattered most. And what does being medalist at the Western Amateur mean? Xiong said it was the biggest thrill of his career.
“For sure,” he said. “By far. To me, it’s this, the U.S. Amateur, probably the Northeast Amateur as the biggest tournaments in amateur golf.”
WALKER CUP HOPEFULS
A few guys looking to secure a place on the USA Walker Cup team made their pitch today with some fine play. Others unfortunately didn’t capitalize on their chance.
First, the winners: earlier this summer, Derek Bard of Hartford, NY, told AmateurGolf.com that he knew he was an outsider looking in on a possible Walker Cup selection, but he wasn’t going to give up. Looks like this can-do attitude paid off; the Monroe Invitational champion this past June shot 68-67 on Thursday to make the match play round and better his chances to get a spot on the U.S.A.’s Walker Cup squad.
One of the not so lucky ones on this grueling 36-hole moving day unable to score when it counted today was the low amateur from this year’s U.S. Open Scottie Scheffler. The Texan shot 69-72; he finished T24 and failed to advance. We still like Scheffler's chances of making the Walker Cup team, especially if he advances well into match play (or even wins) the U.S. Amateur. Riviera Country Club (with the nickname "Hogan's Alley" should set up well for Scheffler, who played so well at Erin Hills in June.
Two other players that missed the first cut (to top 44 and ties) are perhaps the most surprising. Sam Burns, the LSU player that just finished at 18-under and T6 at the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic, and Braden Thornberry, the Ole Miss star that won the NCAA individual title, the Sunnehanna Amateur, and recorded a T4 at the PGA Tour's Fedex St. Jude Classic along the way. Burns was 2-over, Thornberry 7-over through 36 holes. But we think their spots on Team USA are secure.
Collin Morikawa of Cal Berkeley was closer, at 4-under par. After being co-leader after the first 18 holes at 66, he failed to break par in any of the next four rounds and will get some extra rest in prepping for the U.S. Amateur.
TOP-RANKED PLAYER, THREE OTHERS IN A PLAYOFF
Joaquin Niemann. The No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings is in danger of missing the Sweet Sixteen. The Chilean shot 69-71 in today’s 36-hole marathon to finish in T14 with three other players: Dawson Armstrong (Brentwood, TN); Mason Overstreet (Kingfisher, OK) and Min Woo Lee of Australia. One of those four guys is going to get knocked out of the Sweet Sixteen early tomorrow morning at 7:00am Central, when the playoff begins.
ABOUT THE Western Amateur
Invitational event, and the most important
tournament in American amateur golf outside of the
U.S. Amateur. With a grueling schedule, it's quite
hardest amateur tournament to win.
156 invited players come from across the
globe to play one of the toughest formats in
amateur golf. The tournament starts with 18
holes of stroke play on Tuesday and
Wednesday after which the field is cut to the
low 44 scores and ties. Thursday it's a long
day of 36 holes of stroke play to determine
the “Sweet Sixteen” who compete at Match
Play on Friday and Saturday (two matches
each day if you're going to the finals) to
decide the champion.
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