Skip Berkmeyer (USGA photo)
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (Aug. 15, 2018) – McClure Meissner is the definition of a flat-liner. On a high-pressure day of stroke play at the U.S. Amateur, Meissner drew one of the strongest players in the field in Brad Dalke. Meissner’s expression barely changed even as the lead flip-flopped between the two collegians. Oklahoma standout Dalke had firepower, but Meissner, an SMU sophomore, had calm.
Bryan Gathright, Meissner’s coach for the past six years, has always known this about his player. He also knows there’s more underneath.
“He’s an intense, fierce competitor,” Gathwright said. “He’s passionate and he plays with a lot of emotion but at the same time, he knows how to settle it down and hit a shot.”
Meissner could turn sideways and disappear into the Northern California fog. Dalke, meanwhile, could just as easily pass for a college lineman as a college golfer. Dalke didn’t even put a driver in the bag this week – he hits it too far.
Dalke led early after two birdies in the first three holes, but Meissner righted the ship and led for much of the back nine. Dalke ran out of holes after Meissner threw out two stiff pars on the closing holes.
“I would say that today I hit a lot of greens and made a lot of good pars and I think that’s what kind of helped me get up after 11 holes, just making a lot of solid pars,” Meissner said. “Pars in a U.S. Am, they’ll will you a lot of holes.”
When Meissner graduated high school last year, he and his father Kurt took a golf trip to Pebble Beach to celebrate. He has the same caddie this week that he did that week, even though older brother Mitchell Meissner is now on the sidelines. The Meissners were one of two sets of brothers to start the week, but Mitchell didn’t make match play. The two brothers tied for medalist honors in their San Antonio qualifier.
As for McClure, named after his great grandmother on his father’s side, the momentum is good.
“That was a pretty brutal match honestly,” Meissner said. “I think we tied three holes total but it’s nice to be able to win one and then hopefully that will open the gates for a couple more.”
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ST. LOUIS SPECIAL
The Pebble Beach pull is real. It’s how Skip Berkmeyer, 44, decided to qualify for the U.S. Amateur for the first time since 2011. The St. Louis golf icon was one of four mid-amateurs to make the match-play cut, even though he didn’t make it through Wednesday’s Round of 64.
Berkmeyer went up against Shintaro Ban, not only a local but the No. 5 player in the Golfweek/Amateurgolf.com rankings. Berkmeyer didn’t make a bogey after No. 2, but Ban was 4 under in his last eight holes.
“I was proud of how I played, but he did more things to win the match than I did,” Berkmeyer said.
St. Louis golf is looking awfully good these past two weeks. Crowds at the PGA Championship at Bellerive were enormous, showing that Midwesterners love their golf. Berkmeyer is the second St. Louis career amateur to make headlines in a USGA amateur event in the past two weeks. At the U.S. Women’s Amateur, 56-year-old Ellen Port become the second-oldest player to make match play, also bowing out in the first round.
Of the four mid-amateurs who made it to match play at Pebble Beach, Berkmeyer was the oldest. This is his 10th U.S. Amateur start.
“For a mid-am it’s really hard,” he said. “You got work and family and so many events you can miss and this is the one I chose to miss for awhile but it’s amazing how pebble beach brings you back.”
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DOWN TO THE WIRE
Two weeks ago, John Augenstein defeated Collin Morikawa in the first round of match play at the Western Amateur, a tournament largely viewed as the next-best amateur event after the U.S. Amateur. Thus, the Pebble Beach rematch between Augenstein and Morikawa was one of the most highly anticipated matches of the Round of 64.
Augenstein, a Vanderbilt junior who won the Players Amateur earlier this summer, fed off of the opportunity. It wasn’t exactly a grudge match, but Augenstein knew exactly what he was walking into when he drew Morikawa, a Cal senior.
“When I know I'm getting ready to play one of the best players in the world, and that's where I want to be when it's all said and done, you have to beat the best to be the best,” Augenstein said. “When I know I have to hit a shot, have to win a hole or whatever it may be, I feel like I do that very well.”
Augenstein went down early, but brought it back to all square with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 9 and 10. The birdie at the 10th came off a made 25-footer from just off the green.
“That was huge momentum just squaring up the match, but also seeing a putt go in,” he said. “Getting it back to all square, you just kind of roll the momentum through.”
The two players spent much of the back nine locked at all square. Augenstein started to build his advantage at No. 14 when he made a 12-footer for birdie. Both players parred No. 15 before Augenstein missed the green at No. 16 and Morikawa put it to 8 feet. When Augenstein chipped in from the fringe, a caddie chest bump and club toss followed.
Morikawa squared it with a par at No. 17, which ultimately led to an extra hole. Augenstein ended it with birdie.
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Stewart Hagestad was another mid-amateur to make match play. Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur, but this year is the first time he has made U.S. Amateur match play in nine tries.
Among the four mid-amateurs, only Hagestad and Bradford Tilley, medalist at the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur, advanced to the Round of 32.
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Isaiah Salinda claimed one of the most lop-sided match of the day, defeating Will Grimmer, 6 and 5.
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“I think it's a phenomenal match-play course. The stretch of holes from 3 through 9, the different tee boxes and how they can change the holes just to make it so much different and make it exciting, I think it’s incredible. It’s a golf course where because of how small the greens are you can really put a lot of pressure on your opponent just by hitting good shots in there and hitting a lot of greens.”
Noah Goodwin, 2017 U.S. Junior champion, on Pebble Beach as a match-play venue
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Three of the top four players in the Golfweek/Amateurgolf.com rankings fell Wednesday in the first-round matches. No. Justin Suh, No. 3 Collin Morikawa and No. 4 Braden Thornberry are all out, opening up an opportunity for an under-the-radar player to break through. . . . The field began at 312, and after Wednesday, has been whittled to 32. Those players represent 10 countries: New Zealand, United States, Mexico, China, Australia, England, Argentina, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Norway. . . . Jacob Bergeron, who advanced out of a 24-for-1 playoff first thing Wednesday morning couldn’t keep his momentum alive after a roughly five-hour gap between sudden death and his first-round match. Top-seeded Daniel Hillier started slow with two bogeys in the first three holes to give Bergeron an early lead, but the match flipped from there. . . . Cole Hammer, the No. 2 seed and co-medalist, chipped in for eagle at the iconic 18th to end his match against Alvaro Ortiz, 2 up. Said Hammer, “I’ve seen so many greats like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer come down the stretch and do amazing things, and to kind of pull something off like that out of the rough, out of a tough lie, needing at least a birdie, was pretty special and something I’ll remember for a long time.”