Western Amateur: Valdes, Tigers rule second round at North Shore
Brendan Valdes (Back of the Range Photo)
Brendan Valdes (Back of the Range Photo)

The Auburn University men’s golf program may want to consider moving the Tiger Invitational to North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois.

Led by Brendan Valdes, a pack of three Tigers stormed to the top of the leaderboard at the 121st Western Amateur on Wednesday as the field of 156 was cut to the low 50 players who shot even par or better.

Valdes, an Orlando, Florida native, backed up his opening round 66 with another 5-under performance on the par-71 layout to take a three-shot lead through two rounds of stroke-play qualifying. His college teammates Jackson Koivun, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and John Marshall Butler, of Louisville, Kentucky, sit in second and fourth, respectively. Alex Vogelsong, an Auburn fifth-year from Palm City, Florida, made the cut and sits in 26th.

“We’ve all been playing really well,” Koivun, an incoming freshman at Auburn, said. “I’m really excited to see how the rest of the week goes and compete with them the next few years.”

Despite making birdie on his first three holes, Valdes’ second round looked like it may go sideways on the 10th hole. After his tee shot bounced through the left side of the fairway, Valdes was unable to find the ball in the thick rough and made a double bogey, erasing his hot start.

“We ended up finding my ball 30 seconds after search time was up, and that kind of ticked me off,” Valdes said. “I thought the course owed me something now, so I decided it was time to make some birdies.”

Making birdies is exactly what Valdes did, playing his final six holes in 4-under.

“I was able to reset and capitalize, hitting a few good shots and making some putts,” Valdes said. “I’m trying to just take it one step at a time.”

Koivun made plenty of putts as well in his 5-under 66, rolling in seven birdies on the day. Few were as impressive as the 15-footer he made on the 18th.

While Koivun was reading his putt on the green, his pushcart slowly started to roll backward toward a greenside bunker.

“I tried to make the hero play and grab it, and then I slipped as well and ended up in the bunker with my bag,” Koivun said. “It took a lot of mental dedication to get back up, step over that birdie putt on 18 and make it.”

He shares a spot in second place with a past Western Amateur champion who also hit a highlight shot at North Shore today.

Michael Thorbjornsen, the 2021 champion, stood 113 yards from the hole on the 382-yard par-4 fifth with a lob wedge in his hand.

“I absolutely flushed it, and I actually said go in while it was at its apex,” Thorbjornsen, a Stanford senior, said. “My dad didn’t react but then another guy behind him started celebrating and I realized it went in.”

The hole-out eagle was the signature shot in a 3-under 67 for the Wellesley, Massachusetts, native.

Thorbjornsen will have the opportunity to become a two-time Western Amateur medalist after he claimed the honor and swept match play to hoist the trophy in 2021 at Glen View Club in Golf, Illinois.

“I’m two years older now and have two years of experience playing in TOUR events and amateur and college events,” Thorbjornsen said. “I feel better about my game, but we still have 100-plus holes to go, so we’ll just take it one day at a time.”

Thorbjornsen – who recently finished T17 at the John Deere Classic and fourth at the Travelers Championship on the PGA TOUR – will play 36 holes tomorrow alongside one of the top fields in amateur golf to determine the Sweet 16 for match play, which begins Friday.

One stroke behind Thorbjornsen is Wenyi Ding, who became the first player from China to win a USGA championship when he won the U.S. Junior in 2022. The Arizona State freshman sits in a tie for fourth with Butler at 6-under.

Results: Western Amateur
WinNew ZealandKazuma KoboriNew Zealand150069-69-72-65=275
Runner-upSouth AfricaChristiaan MaasSouth Africa120065-72-69-69=275
SemifinalsOKDrew GoodmanNorman, OK90066-74-66-65=271
SemifinalsNorthern IrelandMatthew McCleanNorthern Ireland90069-68-64-71=272
QuarterfinalsALNick DunlapHuntsville, AL70069-70-67-66=272

View full results for Western Amateur

ABOUT THE Western Amateur

Invitational event, and the most important tournament in American amateur golf outside of the U.S. Amateur. With a grueling schedule, it's quite possibly the hardest amateur tournament to win.

156 invited players come from across the globe to play one of the toughest formats in amateur golf. The tournament starts with 18 holes of stroke play on Tuesday and Wednesday after which the field is cut to the low 44 scores and ties. Thursday it's a long day of 36 holes of stroke play to determine the “Sweet Sixteen” who compete at Match Play on Friday and Saturday (two matches each day if you're going to the finals) to decide the champion.

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