Alex Smalley (Duke photo)
JOHNSTOWN, PA (June 14, 2018) - To distance himself from one of the toughest fields in amateur golf, Alex Smalley
needed excellent ball-striking and self-discipline. If it’s possible to breathe a sigh of relief halfway through a major amateur event, Smalley looks like he’s in the position to do it.
Despite the challenge of fast (yet receptive) greens, deep rough and gusting wind, Smalley, the first-round co-leader at the Sunnehanna Amateur never had a bogey in Thursday’s second round. His 6-under 64 moved him to 10 under and helped him build a six-shot lead at Sunnehanna Country Club in Johnstown, Pa.
Even though Smalley’s card looked flawless, he admits his opening tee shot wasn’t great. He still managed par on the opening two holes, even though he called his lag putt the best part of the par on No. 2. The first of six birdies came on the par-4 third, and a chip-in for birdie at No. 11 ignited a back-nine 31.
Meanwhile, the field struggled with the conditions.
“I saw the forecast and I knew it was going to be pretty windy,” said Smalley, the stroke-play medalist at the 2017 U.S. Amateur. “To be perfectly honest, I thought it was going to be windier than it actually was.”
Smalley, a rising senior at Duke, noticed the wind die down after he made the turn, and he took advantage. He was laser-like with his approach shots and capitalized on a hot putter to put a big gap between himself and the nearest competitors. Rough as high as 6 inches in some areas put a premium on that kind of accuracy.
Smalley likes the way he’s hitting the ball this week, and it’s setting up birdie opportunities. He’s still playing it safe with his putter.
“With some of these greens, with how slopey they are and with how much break you have to play, if you’re rolling them in, you’re picking up some shots,” Smalley said.
Pepperdine’s Sahith Theegala
shared the lead with Smalley at the start of the day, but moved the other way on the leaderboard. Theegala was 3 over in his opening six holes before he righted the ship. He added two birdies and one more bogey and ended the day with 2-over 72. Theegala, at 2 under for 36 holes, is tied for fifth with Cal standout Seb Crampton
, who competes at the NAIA level for Dalton State, and Stephen Franken
, a rising senior at N.C. State, posted rounds of 66 and 67, respectively, to share second place at 4 under. Lee eagled the par-5 11th and Franken eagled the par-5 15th. Both birdied the closing hole.
Lee’s eagle was something of a pleasant surprise. A blind recovery shot from behind a tree set up a 5-foot putt. Lee thought 4 under would be the low round of the day, given the conditions.
“Wind was much stronger today, but I’m glad I finished with a birdie,” he said. “It helps me push further for tomorrow and maybe I can catch the leader.”
posted the second-best round of the day, a bogey-free 5-under 65, and is in solo fourth at 3 under. Young is the reigning New York Open champion, having become the first amateur to ever win the title last summer.
Young nearly lost a ball at the 11th when his approach shot plugged in soggy ground, but a volunteer spotter was able to locate it. From there, Young chipped to 3 feet and made a birdie he wasn’t counting on.
“That kind of kept me going,” he said.
Young left the course feeling like he had wasted no shots, and that his improved driving and putting was what allowed him to follow an opening 72 with a second-round 65. He expects the course to dry out overnight, which will set up a good test for the weekend.
It may create an opportunity for some of the better-ranked players who have struggled so far to work their way back up the leaderboard.
World No. 2 Collin Morikawa
, who won this event two years ago, shaved 10 shots to post a second-round 66 and moved 61 spots up the leaderboard to a tie for 19th. Andy Zhang
, the University of Florida star who won individual titles at the SEC Championship and NCAA Southeast Regional, shaved even more shots. He followed a first-round 78 with a 65 on Thursday to climb into a tie for 26th.
With 36 holes left to play, Lee knows better than to count out any of those players. Don’t count him out, either.
“At this course, anything can happen,” said Lee. “I’m not really nervous about tomorrow, if I just play my game then I should be able to pull out something.”
ABOUT THE Sunnehanna Amateur
The Sunnehanna Amateur was inaugurated in
1954 -- it was the first country club
sponsored 72-hole stroke play competition for
in the United States. The
tournament is played on a classic A.W.
design. Only one other amateur
tournament in the United States can list the
Chick Evans, Arnold Palmer, Julius
Boros, Art Wall, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson,
Woods, and Rickie Fowler as
contestants: the United States Amateur. Its
format has been emulated by
countless amateur tournaments across the
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