Ollie Osborne (left) will play Tyler Strafaci for the title on Sunday
As a golfer, you dream of playing links golf on a sunny day with light winds like the four semifinalists got to play in today. But as a spectator, after watching U.S. Amateur players get blown around the course, it's a bit of a letdown.
But don't worry, calm days don't usually stay around for long on the Oregon Coast, and over the 36-hole final on Sunday we are certain to see mother nature play more of a part.
That's not to say that it wasn't fun watching today. With no commercials, and just two matches going, the continuity of the TV coverage is amazing. There were no major rules infractions like we saw with the local caddie on Thursday touching the sand on No. 18 leading to a loss of hole
, but we did see one small penalty assessed early in one of the matches. That happened when Matthew Sharpstene was deemed to have caused his ball to move during his halted backswing on No. 5, costing him a stroke.
In the first matchup today, Tyler Strafaci started out playing conservatively and waiting for his opponent Aman Gupta to make mistakes. Often laying back off the tee, Strafaci picked his spots and won thre of the first five holes, and made the turn 3-up over Gupta.
Gupta seemed to take the bait on holes like No. 5, where Strafaci hit his approach to the center of green first, from a position well back of Gupta's perfect drive to the throat of the narrow fairway. Faced with just 143 yards to a left pin, the Oklahoma State golfer pulled his short iron left and gave up the hole to a routine par.
Over the last few days, the 10th hole has been a very reachable par-4, but with so much crosswind most players wound up left of the green. Not so today, and Strafaci took the opportunity to drive the green, two putting for par and another win. 4-up seems to be the point of no return in an 18-hole match, and after missing a short par putt for a win on the difficult 11th hole, it looked like game over for Gupta.
But Gupta fought back with a huge par saving putt on No. 12, an amazing up and down from the huge swale in front of the 13th green to take the match back to 3-down, and a win at No. 15 with a double bogey (see below, it was ugly but effective).
Then Gupta hit the shot of the day. With his opponent safely on the green 15-feet away for birdie on No. 16, Gupta hit a long blast from a pot bunker short of the green that barely cleared a greenside bunker, before settling to 7 feet. He made it, narrowing the margin to one hole with two left. After being 4-down through 12 holes, the gritty player from North Carolina who only barely got into the field as a first alternate was looking to make his trip to Bandon Dunes worthwhile.
On to No. 17, and Gupta won with a par when Strafaci missed an 8-foot par putt after finding the pot bunker off the tee. For the third-straight match, Tyler Strafaci would stand on the 18th tee all square. When Gupta missed wide right (almost in the hazard) Strafaci over corrected and pull hooked his drive into the deep heather on the left.
Nerves are tough, being tired with nerves is even tougher. And Strafaci was starting to show signs of wearing down physically and mentally.
But coming making up such a deficit finally took its toll on Gupta, who took three shots to extricate himself from the fairway bunker on No. 18, leading to double bogey. Once again Strafaci (who made a nice chip to the green in three for an easy par) was faced with a whirlwind of emotions coming off the 18th green a somewhat shaken victor. "I started having some negative self talk," he admitted in a post-round interview, crediting his father's upbeat coaching with helping him stay positive at No 18, Looking to the Sunday final, Strafaci said, "I've got to putt better tomorrow."
The Matthew Sharpstene vs. Ollie Osborne match was much closer, at least on the front nine. The players were even through eight holes.
But then momentum shifted quickly, as Sharpstene lost confidence in the most important club in match play. He four putted the par-5 9th for bogey to go 1-down, made a nice birdie save from 4-feet on No. 11 but again three putted No. 11 to go 2-down. But there was no back-down in Sharpstene -- hitting second on the par-3 12th he stuffed his tee shot to 10 feet and mustered up a great stroke to make birdie and get back to 1-down.
Osborne put things almost out of reach with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14. Despite Osborne taking an unplayable lie from the gorse on No. 15 (leading to double-bogey), Sharpstene couldn't capitalize -- missing a short putt for bogey and win. The match ended on No. 16 when Osborne won with a par, taking the match 4-and-2.
Featured Hole: No. 15
Have you played Bandon Dunes? If you have you know that it's one of the most scenic and challenging holes anywhere. Even without wind, we could all feel the pain of Tyler Strafaci as he missed his tee shot well short and right of the green, with a mountain to climb to get back on board. After blading his wedge over and leaving the next shot short, Strafaci had scored a triple, on a hole where a bogey would have won him the match. Gupta had his own problems, letting pitch from over the green roll right back to his feet, but he managed to compose himself and take the hole with a double-bogey.
But wait, there's more...
In the Sharpstene/Osborne match, Osborne had to take an unplayable lie from the gorse over the green. Sharpstene missed a short bogey putt to win the hole, meaning the final four players in the U.S. Amateur played a par three hole in 9-over par. I challenge the golf historians to find a hole that saw that kind of scoring during U.S. Amateur semifinals.
TV Coverage Scores Again
Golf Channel does a great job providing back stories and interviews - today we again heard from course architect David McLay Kidd and a live interview with owner and links golf visionary Mike Keiser, who said he "always looked at the U.S. Amateur as a major."
Dads on the bag:
It's not uncommon to see a father caddying for his son, but today was very special in that department with three of the four players having their dads loop for them. The fourth player, Aman Gupta, took his college coach Alan Brtatton of Oklahoma State -- Bratton has been on the bag of two previous champs -- Peter Uihlein at Chambers Bay in 2010 and Viktor Hovland in 2018 at Pebble Beach. But the sentimental favorite is Tyler Strafaci's dad Frank, whose own father won the USGA Public Links and back-to-back North & South Amateurs in the 1930s. Watching Frank wince after a missed putt? Priceless.