Match play field set for 2017 U.S. Amateur at Riviera
August 15, 2017
By Julia Pine
Just 178 days ago Sahith Theegala went through the best preparation for this year's U.S. Amateur Championship a golfer could receive. Over four days in February, Theegala played in the PGA TOUR's Genesis Open at Riviera CC, which happens to also be the host site for this year's Amateur. Making the field by way of the Collegiate Showdown, an 18-hole qualifier held the Monday of tournament week, Theegala made the cut in his PGA TOUR debut, playing two rounds alongside former U.S. Amateur Champion Phil Mickelson and seeing Riviera in clear cut tournament conditions.
That experience should bode well for Theegala this week, as after rounds of 72 (Riviera) and 68 (Bel-Air CC), the rising Pepperdine University junior has made the match play portion of the event, which gets underway Wednesday morning.
"I am pretty confident in my game," said Theegala. "I'm fresh off taking a couple of weeks off. I've been hitting the ball well, really well, and my short game has been solid so far."
Theegala followed up his opening round 72 with a 2-under par 68 at Bel-Air, which featured an impressive birdie on the first hole. After a rare errant tee shot found itself in the left rough, Theegala hit a tree on his second shot before chipping the ball to ten feet. He would make the putt to birdie the 492-yard opening par-5 hole.
"To make that putt was huge starting off the round right away like that," said Theegala. "That was a big one."
Despite an opening round of 2-over par at Riviera Monday, Theegala feels good about his opportunity at the course.
"I actually didn't play too bad yesterday," said Theegala, a native of Chino Hills, Calif who last year made it to the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals. "It was playing tough and I missed it in a few wrong places and had no chance to make par. Today I hit my driver well, and hit a lot of fairways. Obviously everyone's goal is to get into match play, so I'm super pumped about that."
Theegala will face Gavin Hall of New York in the Round of 64 at 9:40 a.m. Wednesday.
Also achieving the goal of match play is La Canada Flintridge native and Cal Berkeley golfer Collin Morikawa, who entered the event ranked fifth in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. After an opening round 68 at Bel-Air on Monday, Morikawa shot even par at Riviera Tuesday to easily make Wednesday's action.
"I could have been the 64th seed and I'd have been happy," said Morikawa, who earlier this summer won the Northeast Amateur. "Now the slate is wiped clean and everyone is on an even playing field."
The match play portion of the event, in addition to wiping the slate clean for the remaining 64 competitors, may also change the strategy for players like Morikawa. On the iconic 10th hole at Riviera, which Tuesday was playing at 327 yards, Morikawa pulled out a driver, eventually putting himself in position for a birdie putt which he just missed. We may not see that again Wednesday.
"It will depend who I am playing and what they are doing. Where we are in the match," said Morikawa, who will face Australia's Blake Collyer at 10:30 a.m. "I do think, however, that if I go driver and miss it, I still give myself the chance to chip onto the front. We'll see."
Norman Xiong, who is coming off a career-changing win at the Western Amateur, held a share of the Round 1 lead after blazing Riviera for a 64 Monday. He cooled down a bit Tuesday, but will be a top seed as the Championship moves into the match play portion. After a hot start at Bel-Air, that saw the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year collect two birdies in his first four holes, Xiong would run into trouble on the par-3 13th hole, carding a five, and then collecting another bogey two holes later. A late birdie on 18 would right the ship, sending Xiong into match play a clear favorite to make a long run.
"It was fun," said Xiong, who finished with an even par 70 at Bel-Air to finish second in stroke play and three behind the medalist. "I played some really solid golf. Did what I needed to do and got through to match play, which is the biggest goal."
Other SoCal stars to make match play include Matt Wolff of Westlake Village, who is coming off a runner-up finish at the U.S. Boys' Junior, and Ricky Castillo of Yorba Linda, who also had a nice match play run at the Boys' Junior. Wolff will face Tyler Strafaci of Florida at 11:20 a.m. while Castillo will play Oregon's Edwin Yi at 9 a.m.
The stroke play portion of the event will conclude at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, as the competitors sitting at 4-over par on the leaderboard battle it out in a playoff to firm up the 64 seeds. Thirteen players will battle it out for the final eight spots, including one against Xiong at 1:50 p.m. Round of 64 action will begin at 8:50 a.m.