ASU teammates Yu, Wagoner rise to top of Players Am leaderboard
Chun-An Yu (Arizona State Athletics photo)
Chun-An Yu (Arizona State Athletics photo)

BLUFFTON, S.C. – The low numbers are out there at Berkeley Hall’s South Course, it’s just a matter of doing the right things – and going after pins. Fifty-two players in the 81-man field were under par in Thursday’s opening round, and leader Stewart Hagestad posted 61. You can’t sit back and play safe golf on a week like this if you expect to keep pace.

That kind of aggressive style doesn’t particularly suit Blake Wagoner, a North Carolina native who is about to enter his final year at Arizona State, but he’s making it work.

“Typically, I’m more of a conservative player but I’ve been hitting it well enough and the pins aren’t super tough so I’ve been attacking it more, and it worked out well today,” said Wagoner, 22.

He didn’t make a bogey in a second-round 8-under 64 and even though he’s 10 under through the first half of the tournament, he still trails Hagestad by seven shots.

Wagoner and classmate Chun An (Kevin) Yu, 20, have staked the Sun Devil flag on the top section of the leaderboard. Yu also didn’t make a bogey Friday in his second-round 67. In fact, he hasn’t made a bogey since the opening hole of the tournament.

Yu, at 11 under, is tied for third after 36 holes and Wagoner is tied for sixth.

“I missed a couple tee shots today but overall it was pretty similar to yesterday. I’m feeling good, looking forward to the weekend,” Yu said on the state of his game.

Yu has younger sister Han-Hsuan on the bag this week, getting yardages and generally providing reassurance. Han, as her friends call her, will be a sophomore at Oklahoma State in the fall. The Yu siblings are traveling together for much of this summer, trading off caddie duties.

“The bag is heavy for me,” Han said laughing. Kevin often calls her “meme” on the course, which is Chinese for sister.

Kevin is doing most of the playing, but he did pick up Han’s Pokes bag last week when she played a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier in Arizona. She came up one shot short. Even on weeks like this, Han is watching carefully what goes on in the heads of the world’s best – like her brother, who is No. 1 in the Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com Rankings.

Mostly, she says, it’s confidence – players here think they can pull off lots of different shots, and they do.

For Kevin, Arizona State’s newly opened practice facility at Papago Golf Course in Tempe, Ariz., has helped him hone some of those different shots, particularly around the greens.

“My short game was my weakness before but now we have like six different greens, sets up really nice,” he said. “My short game got better now, and I think that helped my score too.”

Blake Wagoner
Blake Wagoner
At Papago, the short game facility is a lot like the front-of-the-store gauntlet at Target. You can’t hardly get past it to go work on something else, and as a result, Arizona State players have spent considerably more time there recently. Wagoner thinks its placement is absolutely deliberate.

“At our old facility, we rarely practiced short game just because we didn’t really have much of a short game area,” he said. “Everybody just hit balls. Now it’s completely the opposite – nobody really hits balls and everybody is just short gaming all day.”

Arizona State was one of the top teams in the nation this season, with four team wins and six runner-up finishes. The Sun Devils missed the first cut to 15 teams at the NCAA Championship, which was a surprising underperformance. Next year, the national championship starts a three-year stretch at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., right under Arizona State’s nose.

The Sun Devils didn’t graduate a single player this spring.

“It’s cool when anybody in our lineup could win at any given point. We all just push each other,” Wagoner said.

Wagoner and Yu will be seniors in the fall. Teammates could learn a lot from both of them. Yu tries to live by the motto of staying “happy, humble and hungry,” and makes a conscious effort to smile while he’s playing golf. Wagoner is a thoughtful player, even stoic.

“Our games are really similar in a lot of ways, he’s just probably a little cleaner than I am but not for long,” Wagoner said, smiling. “I’m coming for him.”

Despite being a Carolinas native, Wagoner is making his Players Amateur debut this week. Two days before the tournament, he qualified for the U.S. Amateur through a qualifier at NorthStone Country Club in Huntersville, N.C., his high-school home course. The nostalgia continues next month at the Pinehurst-hosted U.S. Amateur.

“I grew up playing (Pinehurst) every other weekend in junior golf,” he said.

This is the perfect time for Wagoner to get on a run.

Results: Players Amateur
1GASpencer RalstonGainesville, GA120071-67-68-63=269
T2OHWill GrimmerCincinnati, OH90067-66-69-68=270
T2CADavid LaskinElk Grove, CA90068-65-69-68=270
T2CAStewart HagestadNewport Beach, CA90061-66-68-75=270
5FLTyler StrafaciDavie, FL70069-66-67-70=272

View full results for Players Amateur

ABOUT THE Players Amateur

While competing in the 1999 US Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach, former US Walker Cup Team members, Duke Delcher and Tom McKnight discussed the formation of a premier 72-hole stroke play amateur golf tournament. The inaugural Players Amateur was held the next summer. Former British Open Champion, Ben Curtis, was the winner of the 2000 event.  In 2004, the Heritage Classic Foundation began running the event. The Heritage Classic Foundation was formed in 1987 as a 501 (c) (3), not- for-profit organization, it serves as the operational and financial oversight group for the PGA Tour RBC Heritage Classic. The Foundation distributes all charitable funds generated from the tournaments to charity. The winner of The Players Amateur gets an exemption into the PGA Tour RBC Heritage Classic, as well as the Master of the Amateurs tournament in Melbourne, Australia.

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