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'You definitely have to think': Pinehurst No. 2 is a tall test
Shiryu Oyo (AGC/Kyle Rector)
Shiryu Oyo (AGC/Kyle Rector)

Before this week even began, a U.S. Amateur competitor described the greens at Pinehurst No. 2 as being “upside-down cereal bowls.” As wind began to kick up Tuesday in the second round of stroke-play qualifying at the U.S. Amateur, navigating the putting surfaces became even more challenging.

Add that to all the other par protectors on a championship course that most players are familiar with as a U.S. Open venue and the numbers aren’t surprising. At a par of 70, Course No. 2 played to a 77.06 stroke average in the opening round while Course No. 4 played to a 73.14 stroke average. Thanks to a weather delay, stroke play will continue into a third day of this championship week. But if it keeps up at this pace, Pinehurst No. 2 could rank as the fourth-toughest in recent U.S. Amateurs.

Japan’s Shiryu (Leo) Oyo, who is about to enter his sophomore season at San Diego State, cleared No. 2 in 1-over 71 on Monday. Playing No. 4 early on Tuesday morning, he flirted with the competitive course record, set a day earlier by Stanford senior Brandon Wu. That opening 5-under 65 on the newly renovated No. 4 set up the stroke-play lead for Wu.

In the end, Oyo couldn’t catch him. After starting on No. 9, he was 4 under on the day by No. 3, parred the next four then logged his only bogey on No. 8 to finish with 67. It was all about placement for Oyo.

“My coach and I just kind of -- we focused on one thing this week, and that was just positioning, never putting yourself on the wrong side of the hole,” Oyo said. “And even if you miss the greens, giving yourself easy chips, and I think we did a good job of that.”

Oyo came within one shot of catching Wu’s 36-hole score, but at 2 under, will miss medalist honors by a hair. He’s part of a six-man group at that number. Still, it’s Oyo’s first U.S. Amateur start. Now that he’s assured of a spot on the match-play bracket, he’s also assured of another tee time on No. 2.

His plan? Let his opponent make mistake and try to capitalize.

“I think honestly, even though it’s match play, if I just play the same as I did yesterday, I think we’ll be good to go,” he said.

Philip Barbaree was another player to flirt with the course record on Tuesday. He made four of his five birdies from Nos. 5-10. Bogeys on Nos. 2 and 18 bumped the LSU player back up to 3-under 67.

“No. 2, you've just got to be in control of everything, and No. 4 is just a little bit wider and the greens are just a little bit softer, but that's the main difference right there,” Barbaree said.

Australian junior Karl Vilips is perhaps the poster-child for the varying difficulty levels. Vilips opened with a 7-over 77 on No. 2 that made a match-play berth look unlikely. But a bogey-free 65 put him right back in it. At 2 over for stroke play, he’ll find a middle-of-the-pack seed.

Blake Windred, a seasoned New South Wales player, said after a second-round 74 on No. 2 (which followed a 67 on No. 4) that he’s not sure a player could ever get truly comfortable on such a demanding track. It’s tight, but Windred doesn’t want to take driver out of his hand.

“I think off the tee, although it is pretty tight, the consequences are pretty brutal, especially if you miss the fairways,” he said. “But you really need to just step up there and trust the drive and just smoke it down there – not really worry about where the trouble is.”

Akshay Bhatia, a 17-year-old North Carolina native, was more worried by approach shots. That echoed many players’ sentiments.

“You definitely have to think,” Bhatia said. “You can't go at pins, and numbers are huge. You hit it three or four yards long, it's going to go 20, 30 feet by, and that can really lead to a big score.”

The only red numbers on the board on Tuesday came from players on course No. 2. Even Wu, who got a nice cushion from an opening 65 on No. 4, approached No. 2 with caution.

“I feel like no lead is safe on this course, so I just maybe tried to pick a little more conservative targets but just stay aggressive to what I was trying to do and go out and try and play as well as I could,” said Wu, who ended up with 2-over 72.

Quotes and information from the USGA used in this report

ABOUT THE U.S. Amateur

The U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship, was first played in 1895 at Newport Golf Club in Rhode Island. The event, which has no age restriction, is open to those with a Handicap Index of 2.4 or lower. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. It is the pre-eminent amateur competition in the world. Applications are typically placed online, starting the third week in April at www.usga.org.

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