Maxwell Moldovan (USGA/Chris Keane)
PINEHURST, N.C. – Maxwell Moldovan
didn’t have a lot of time to process the name slotted into the bracket across from him on a humid Wednesday morning at the U.S. Amateur. It all came together hastily after the final few players returned to the course early morning to finish stroke play.
Moldovan hardly needed to Google Stewart Hagestad
. The savvy 17-year-old knows his Masters highlights.
“It was kind of like, wow,” Moldovan said of drawing one of the most experienced players remaining – and the oldest player in match play. “He’s had some incredible accomplishments. To be able to say he was the low am at the Masters (2017) is a heck of a thing.”
Moldovan, the second-youngest player still in this tournament, took down a 28-year-old Hagestad with two holes to spare. Moldovan knew he had him on the ropes when Hagestad bogeyed the par-3 15th.
“I stood over that putt and I was like, ‘If I make this, I’m good – 3 up with three to go, it’s hard to lose that,” Moldovan said of a surgical up-and-down for par there.
Moldovan also knows Donald Ross greens – arguably better than most players here. He came up three shots short of advancing from U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Springfield (Ohio) Country Club, a Ross design. His U.S. Amateur qualifier was at Shaker Heights (Ohio) Country Club, another Ross course.
Perhaps that explains Moldovan’s touch around Pinehurst’s tricky greens. It was where he had his edge on Hagestad on Wednesday. Moldovan has dedicated a lot of his attention to his short game lately. He had 11 putts on the front nine of his first-round match.
“He’s always liked Donald Ross courses throughout his junior career so far,” said John Moldovan, Maxwell’s dad and swing coach, and also the teaching professional at Ohio Prestwick Country Club. “His golf IQ is pretty high. He gets it and I don’t have to hold his hand anymore….I just let him go basically.”
Moldovan has longtime golf buddy Jacob Conjerti on the bag this week. He got to ease into this whole USGA thing last month at the U.S. Junior, played at Inverness Golf Club just two hours from his Uniontown, Ohio home.
Moldovan, who has another year of junior golf until he shows up on the Ohio State roster, made a run to the third round that week. But earlier this summer, Moldovan won six matches at the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic, a round-robin match-play event played at Liberty National (site of last week’s Northern Trust Open on the PGA Tour). He also won the Ohio Amateur.
“For me what’s worked all summer is hitting fairways and greens,” Moldovan said in naming his best match-play tip. “You don’t have to make a lot of birdies to win matches, you just have to stay consistent because guys are going to make bogeys, you just gotta make pars.”
• • •
: Baylor teammates Cooper Dossey
and Travis McInroe
weren’t together when they found out they’d be playing each other in the first round of match play. Dossey looked at it this way: “Either way, there is a Bear going into the Round of 32.”
After a 4-and-3 defeat of McInroe, Dossey is that Bear. He and McInroe aren’t just teammates, they’re roommates. There was a comfort factor, and there’s a comfort factor for Dossey on this course too.
Dossey’s North & South victory here in June has been well-documented. It was a breakthrough victory for a player who had struggled with a wrist injury – and with confidence. He still had to qualify for this tournament, but since then, Dossey has felt a peace surrounding this week.
“I told my dad, I asked him if it was normal not to have nerves at a big tournament like this, because I haven't had any nerves all week really,” he said. “Just mainly because I'm confident here. I know I'm supposed to be here. I'm not scared to play anyone this week.”
In addition to Dossey and McInroe, San Diego State teammates Puwit Anupansuebsai
and Shiryu (Leo) Oyo
also went head to head in the opening round.
Oyo, who has head coach Ryan Donovan on the bag, rallied from 3 down on the 14th tee, won the next five consecutive holes and walked away with a 2-and-1 victory.
• • •
OLDER, STRONGER, WISER
: When Matthew Fitzpatrick won the U.S. Amateur in 2013, a U.S. Open start at Pinehurst in 2014 was among the spoils. Fitzpatrick was the only amateur to make the cut that week.
, at least, was around for the U.S. Amateur run, having toted his brother’s bag around the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., that week. Still, not a lot stuck.
“I've got the memory of a goldfish, so can't really remember loads about it from five or six years ago,” he said.
The younger Fitzpatrick was a quarterfinalist here last year. Now with a year at Wake Forest under his belt, there is more of an edge to the jovial Englishman – he’s more determined, and less likely to joke around.
“I think recently my game has developed quite a bit. I definitely think since last year I've become a bit more of a player rather than just a good hitter of a golf ball.”
That was on display Wednesday as Fitzpatrick drew another European, reigning British Amateur champion James Sugrue. Fitzpatrick took down the Irishman, 5 and 4.
• • •
Texas twins Parker and Pierceson Coody both carved out a spot for themselves on the match-play bracket, then carved out an empty afternoon to rest up for a potential 36-hole Thursday. Pierceson defeated Pepperdine redshirt senior Sahith Theegala, 6 and 5. Parker, with Longhorns coach John Fields on the bag, took down Georgia Tech’s Noah Norton, 7 and 6. . . . Speaking of coaches on the bag, Oklahoma State’s Alan Bratton returned this year after carrying defending champion Viktor Hovland’s bag all the way to the win last year. His week will be much shorter this time around: Austin Eckroat fell in the first round to Frenchman Julien Sale. . . . The youngest remaining player on the bracket is Cohen Trolio, 17, who defeated Trevor Werbylo to advance. Trolio’s father V.J. is the teaching professional at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss, site of last week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.