69th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, conducted by the United States Golf Association
(OOLTEWAH, Tenn.) – Travis Vick, 16, of Houston, Texas, held off hard-charging Patrick Welch, 16, of Providence, R.I., 2 and 1, as the top seed and stroke-play medalist advanced Wednesday in the first round of match play in the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at the par-72, 7,326-yard The Honors Course.
“It’s a good feeling, a sigh of relief,” said Vick, who reached match play last year but was defeated in the opening round. “It’s a tough position to be in. I was subconsciously thinking if I lose this match being 4 up, that’s kind of embarrassing.”
The U.S. Junior Amateur continues with the second and third rounds of match play on Thursday. The quarterfinal and semifinal rounds will be played Friday. The championship concludes with a 36-hole final on Saturday, starting at 8 a.m. EDT.
Welch, who won the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National as an eighth-grader, went 4 down when Vick delivered a 138-yard gap wedge on No. 12 to within 5 feet for a birdie. Welch cut that deficit in half when he sank a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-3 14th. However, Vick steadied himself when he halved the par-4 15th with a 5-foot par putt.
“I just missed two putts from inside 10 feet, so to make that one was a big deal,” said Vick about his par on No. 15.
Eugene Hong, the No. 2 seed, and Min Woo Lee, the No. 3 seed, took different paths to victory. Hong, 16, of Sanford, Fla., who was a U.S. Junior Amateur semifinalist last year, powered his way past Manuel Girona, 16, of Spain, 5 and 4. Lee rallied for a 2-and-1 triumph against Chris Nido, 17, of Palmetto Bay, Fla.
Lee, who is competing in his first USGA championship, squared the match with par when Nido three-putted for bogey on No. 10. The 17-year-old Australian took full advantage of the opening. He struck a 52-degree wedge to within 3 feet for a birdie and the lead at No. 12 and won the following hole with a conceded par when his opponent’s approach found the trees.
“It’s definitely a different competition,” said Lee, whose sister, Minjee, won the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior and owns two LPGA Tour wins as a professional. “Everyone here can win. You have to play your best golf.”
Won Jun Lee, 17, of the Republic of Korea, eliminated Cecil Wegener, 17, of Ridgeland, Miss., 5 and 4. Lee, the No. 4 seed and a semifinalist last year, set up a birdie on the par-5 sixth when he reached the green in two after blasting a 270-yard 3-wood. He built a 4-up cushion with a 7-foot birdie putt on the drivable par-4 seventh.
“I feel really good about my game,” said Lee, who advanced to match play for the third consecutive year. “My strategy is where I want to be. Golf is all about making mistakes, but you try to make less mistakes.”
Matthew Sharpstene, 17, of Asheville, N.C, was not as fortunate in his first-round match, losing to Brent Ito, 17, of Ardsley, N.Y., 3 and 2. Ito, who will be a freshman at the University of Michigan in the fall, won three holes on the inward nine to upend the No. 5 seed.
Ito, who advanced to the match-play bracket following a 13-for-7 playoff earlier in the day, went ahead when he converted a 50-foot chip on the par-4 12th. He then made a 24-foot birdie putt on the par-3 13th and was conceded a lengthy birdie putt on the following hole after Sharpstene found trouble off the tee.
“I have a lot of perseverance,” said Ito, who is playing in his first USGA championship. “I really wasn’t putting well. I just had to slow down, take my time and get into the groove. I pulled that off pretty well today.”
Cole Hammer, 16, of Houston, Texas, reached the Junior Amateur’s Round of 32 for the second consecutive year after defeating Fisher Vollendorf, 17, of Fayetteville, Ark., 2 and 1. Hammer, who qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, struggled on the greens when he shot 78 in the second round of stroke play but regained his stroke that helped him card an opening-round 65 on Monday. Against Vollendorf, he holed a 20-foot downhill putt on the par-4 14th for a 2-up advantage.
“I got complacent last year and I was not completely focused,” said Hammer about losing in the second round at Colleton River Plantation Club. “I have to have a strong mindset each round.”
Joaquin Niemann, who is No. 9 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ and is the highest-ranked golfer in the match-play bracket, won eight consecutive holes to defeat Tommy Kuhl, 15, of Morton, Ill., 7 and 5. Niemann, 17, of Chile, grabbed the lead for good with a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 7 and followed by hitting an 8-iron to within 5 feet to set up another birdie on the par-3 eighth.
“I just wanted to keep playing,” said Niemann, who said he learned to use more break on the course’s fast greens during his two stroke-play rounds.
Andrew Orischak, 17, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., and the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up, was eliminated in his first-round match. Joe Highsmith, 16, of Lakewood, Wash., defeated Orischak in 19 holes. John Pak, 17, of Scotch Plains, N.J., a quarterfinalist last year, edged Ben Epperly, 17, of West Des Moines, Iowa, 1 up.
Paul Chaplet, 17, of Costa Rica, birdied his opening four holes en route to a 4-and-3 victory over Sampson-Yunhe Zheng, 15, of the People’s Republic of China. Chaplet won this year’s Latin America Amateur Championship which earned him a Master’s invitation.
The U.S. Junior Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.