Joshua Bai and Bryan Kim (USGA Photo)
Due to multiple weather delays, the 36-hole championship match of the 75th U.S. Junior Amateur
at Daniel Island Club’s Ralston Creek Course in Charleston, S.C., could not be completed on Saturday. Bryan Kim
, 18, of Brookeville, Md., holds a 1-up lead on Joshua Bai
, 17, of New Zealand thru 25 holes.
It is the first U.S. Junior Amateur final to be extended a day due to weather since 2002 at Atlanta Athletic Club. Before that, one must go back to 1991 at Bay Hill when Tiger Woods claimed the first of three consecutive titles.
The start of the final was delayed 3½ hours on Saturday morning, moving the scheduled 8 o’clock start to 11:30. The competitors managed to complete the first 18 holes without interruption with Bai taking a 1-up advantage into the lunch break.
The afternoon round began at 4:05 p.m. with seven holes getting completed when the horns blew at 5:36 p.m. With the storms continuing into the early evening, USGA officials decided to halt play for the day.
Kim, an incoming Duke University freshman competing in his third U.S. Junior Amateur, rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on the 21st hole to tie the match and then one hole later, he converted from 15 feet on the 135-yard par-3 to take his first lead since the 12th hole of the morning round.
“It's awesome,” said Kim when asked about playing in front of a nice gallery and television cameras. “This is the first time I've played on TV with all these fans. I don't know, it feels awesome, and Josh is such a great competitor always, but especially today. This is such a fun match. Just trying to live up to it.”
Bai, playing in his second U.S. Junior Amateur, made a nice 10-foot par save on the 23rd hole to tie the hole, but squandered a chance to square the match on the par-5 24th when he three-putted from 40 feet after a nice approach shot from the left rough.
“I still feel good,” said Bai, who is seeking his fourth victory in the U.S. after winning age-group titles in the IMG Junior World (2018, boys 11-12 division) at Morgan Hill in the San Diego area and a pair U.S. Kids titles in 2017 (boys 11) and 2018 (boys 12) in the Pinehurst area. “It's not like I'm playing bad. Brian has just been dropping putts from everywhere. I think if I just keep playing my game and then have a good finish tomorrow, 10 holes left, I'm only 1 down, so I'm still in a good spot.”
In the morning 18, Bai and Kim put on quite a display, combining for nine birdies and an eagle. With the usual match-play concessions, Bai posted a 5-under 67 and Kim shot 68. Only five holes were tied.
Both players took 2-up leads at various points until Kim hit a 60-degree wedge to 4 feet to set up a winning birdie on the 17th hole to trim the margin to 1 down. They tied the par-5 18th hole with Bai converting from 13 feet after missing the green to the right with his 112-yard wedge approach. Kim two-putted from 45 feet.
Bai, who trailed by two holes after Kim claimed three consecutive holes from No. 9, rattled off four holes in a row with three birdies and an eagle 2 on the 284-yard, par-4 14th hole. He crushed a 3-wood to 26 feet and converted the putt. Bai also converted putts from 16 and 15 feet, respectively, on Nos. 12 and 13 and finished the run with an 8-iron to 6 feet on the par-3 15th.
“My caddie (Eric Strom) asked me, ‘Do you want to leave it out to the right, have a good angle to chip it, or do you just want to go for it?’” explained Bai on his 3-wood into 14. “I said, ‘I'm feeling pretty good, just going to cut it off that bunker, just go straight for it,’ and it worked out.”
The winner of the match earns an exemption into the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 next June. The two finalists have already earned spots in next month’s U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club, in suburban Denver, while the champion gets a spot in the 2024 U.S. Amateur at Hazeltine National Golf Club, in Chaska, Minn.
Bai is hoping to follow in the footsteps of two Kiwis who won USGA titles at Pinehurst, his idol Michael Campbell (2005 U.S. Open) and Danny Lee (2008 U.S. Amateur). He would be the fourth player from New Zealand to claim a USGA title. Lydia Ko is the last Kiwi to accomplish feat at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Kim, the No. 52 seed from stroke play, would be the lowest seed to win the title since Charlie Beljian, the No. 56 seed, in 2002. He would also be the second Duke golfer to claim a U.S. Junior Amateur crown, joining 1988 winner Jason Widener, who competed in this year’s U.S. Senior Open. Other Duke players to win USGA titles include Amanda Blumenherst (2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur), Brittany Lang (2016 U.S. Women’s Open), Erica Shepherd (2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball), and Megan Furtney (2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball).
“I've had a few matches like that earlier this tournament,” said Kim of the tight battle. “But just to have it in the finals especially because I knew Josh was going to play really well. We've both been playing really well this week to get this far. I knew I just needed to put the pedal down and focus on my game, and it's been working pretty well. Hopefully I can keep it up.”