Braden Thornberry (left) is congratulated by Joaquin Niemann
on the 18th green at Riviera CC (JD Cuban, USGA)
PACIFIC PALISADES, CA (August 16, 2017) - After the first round of match play, 32 players remain in the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship at Riviera Country Club.
The day started at 7:30 AM off of the 10th tee as a 13-man playoff
was held for the final 8 match play spots.
Heavyweight Bout in Round One
In one of the most interesting matches of the day, 18-year-old Joaquin Niemann
of Chile, the #1 ranked amateur in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, took on Braden Thornberry
of Olive Branch, MS. Thornberry is the NCAA Champion and winner of the Jones Cup and Sunnehanna Amateur championships which put him #1 in the Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com World Rankings
for much of the summer.
Niemann took the lead at the first hole and held it for most of the front nine, but Thornberry won holes 10, 12 and 13 to take the lead. Thornberry scrambled from there, did just enough to stay ahead of Niemann, and then buried a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th to win the match 2 up.
Brentley Romine of Golfweek is reporting that even though Niemann has committed to the University of South Florida starting this fall, he may well turn pro instead. He did not do well on an English language test required by USF, and he has played so well lately that he feels he might be ready to give professional golf a go.
"I just want to play golf," said Niemann. "I played the U.S. Open and saw how the best guys weren’t so far past me. I thought they’d be from another planet. … But I want to play more tournaments on the PGA Tour and see how it goes."
Walker Cup Preview?
Another intriguing match featured Maverick McNealy
of Portola Valley, CA and Connor Syme
of Scotland. Both players played in the British Open at Royal Birkdale (Syme was the lone amateur to make it through Final Qualifying
) and both players have an inside track to return to L.A. to play in the Walker Cup in September
All square after 8 holes, Syme won the next three to take control of the match. The highlight during that stretch was an eagle on the driveable par-four 10th.
Syme gave two back with bogeys at 13 and 14 to make it close again, but won the 16th when McNealy plugged his tee shot, then closed it out with a birdie on the par-five 17th.
"Obviously got massive respect for [Maverick's] game, and as a person he’s such a nice guy," Syme told Golfweek. "I played very, very solid and tried not to give him much. I always thought he was going to come back at me, which he did. He never gave my anything on the back nine. … It was obviously a very difficult match, but I’m absolutely delighted to get through to the next round."
Under-the-Radar Theegala Comfortable at Riviera
of Chino Hills, CA has already played a tournament at Riviera Country Club this year: the PGA Tour's Genesis Open, where he played with Phil Mickelson on the weekend and made the cut.
The rising junior at Pepperdine has continued his success at Riviera this week, shooting 72-68 to comfortably make match play, and then winning his first-round match against Gavin Hall
of Pittsford, NY and the University of Texas.
Theegala told Golfweek's Geoff Shackelford that one of the keys to his success at Riviera is his comfort with the kikuyu grass that the course is known for. "I think people, especially coming from the east coast, they don’t play on kikuyu very much at all," said Theegala. "I grew up on public courses, so I feel super comfortable chipping and hitting shots out of the rough here."
He is also comfortable at the U.S. Amateur, coming off a quarterfinal finish at last year's championship at Oakland Hills in Michigan.
Theegala has had a breakout year, qualifying for the U.S. Open at Erin Hills and winning his first major amateur tournament
at the Sahalee Players Championship. He is still considered somewhat of a long shot to make the U.S. Walker Cup team, but a deep run at a course and tournament that fall well within his comfort zone will give him a chance.
Other Match Highlights
The medalist and #1 seed for match play, Hayden Wood
of Edmond, OK, broke open a back-and-forth match with Chris Crisologo
of Canada by winning the last four holes for a 4&3 win. Crisologo was the last player into the match play field of 64, rolling in a birdie putt on the second hole of the 13-for-8 playoff earlier in the day.
Western Amateur champion
and #2 seed Norman Xiong
of San Diego, CA suffered a surprise first-round knockout by Billy Walthouse
of Longmeadow, MA. Walthouse, who was also a part of the 13-for-8 playoff early in the day just to get into match play, was three up at the turn and four up after Xiong bogeyed the long par-four 12th hole. Xiong did make a comeback, cutting the deficit to one hole with an eagle on the par-five 17th, but Walthouse won the 18th and the match 2 up.
was the first player to claim a match play spot in the morning playoff, making birdie on the par-four 10th hole. His momentum continued in his match with England's #1 ranked player, Jack Singh Brar
. Brar stumbled on the first two holes giving Vrzich a 2 up lead, after which the two traded holes throughout the day until Vrzich broke open a close match with wins on holes 16 and 17 for a 3&1 win.
Pacific Amateur champion Doug Ghim
of Arlington Heights, IL and the University of Texas played five-under-par golf in defeating Chris Waters
of Atlanta, GA 4&3.
Northeast Amateur champion Collin Morikawa
of La Canada Flintridge, CA also cruised in his match with Blake Collyer
of Australia, going six up through eight holes and eventually winning 6&5.
Last week's winner
of the Canadian Amateur, Zach Bauchou
of Forest, VA, continued his success against Canadians by knocking out Joey Savoie
Australian Dylan Perry
, who was so close to winning the British Amateur Championship at Royal St. George's earlier this summer, birdied the 19th hole to beat Alex Smalley
of Wake Forest, NC and Duke University.
Round of 32 Matches
Hayden Wood v. Kristoffer Ventura
Ricky Castillo v. Connor Syme
Joey Vrzich v. Arthur Griffin
Doug Ghim v. Sahith Theegala
Theo Humphrey v. Kyle Mueller
Cole Madey v. Noah Norton
Chun An Yu v. Zach Bauchou
Collin Morikawa v. Dylan Perry
Billy Walthouse v. Cheng Jin
Dawson Armstrong v. Robert MacIntyre
Mark Lawrence, Jr. v. Tyler Strafaci
Garrett Barber v. Shae Wools-Cobb
Doc Redman v. Walker Lee
Dylan Wu v. John Oda
Braden Thornberry v. Travis Smyth
Will Zalatoris v. Hugo Bernard