Preview of U.S. Junior Amateur Championship

By: Tony Dear


Most of the world's golfers would have serious trouble navigating a 7,133-yard, par-72 course with thick, ankle-deep rough and greens running between 11 and 12 on the Stimpmeter. Their allotment of handicap strokes would probably vanish by the middle of the back nine, in fact.

This week, a bunch of junior golfers will shoot around par, a few well below it perhaps, for 36 holes on just such a course in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Gold Mountain Golf Course in Bremerton, Wash., where 156 of the best under-18s in the world will be trying to follow in the footsteps of major champions Tiger Woods, David Duval and Johnny Miller. They, along with other PGA Tour players Gay Brewer, Mason Rudolph, Gary Koch, Jack Renner, Jason Allred, Brett Quigley and Charlie Rymer, all won the championship trophy, a handsome sterling reproduction of a bowl made in 1796 by Philadelphia silversmith Samuel Williamson and first presented in 1948.

After those two rounds of stroke-play, the field, which on Sunday night attended the Players' Dinner on board the USS John C. Stennis docked at nearby Naval Base Kitsap, where guest speaker Johnny Miller reminisced about his victory in 1964, will be cut to the top 64 players who will progress to match play. Six head-to-head knockouts will then be needed to win.

The youngest competitor will be a 13-year-old Korean by the name of Eric Bae, now a resident of North Carolina. Brandon Barrows, of Lake Orion, Mich., is also 13 and will turn 14 on the day of the final. Last year's winner Jim Liu, who became the youngest champion (14 years, 11 months and 15 days) in the event's history at Egypt Valley CC in Ada, Mich., beating Woods's mark by more than seven months, and who now works with Woods's old coach John Anselmo, will be defending his title. And Jordan Spieth, twice a cut-maker at the HP Byron Nelson Classic, is also competing.

If odds were available for the tournament, it's likely Spieth's would be the shortest. The Dallas Jesuit Prep School graduate who will be turning out for the Texas Longhorns starting in the fall, won the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2009 after reaching the semis in 2008. Last year, he went out in the Round of 32 having tied for second in stroke-play qualifying. He will be the only player in the field making his fourth appearance at the event. The 17-year-old missed his high school graduation in May on account of his being in the thick of contention at the Nelson (he would eventually finish T32), 12 months after finishing tied for 16th at the same tournament.

If the brackets will allow it, the formbook suggests Spieth's opponent in the final might well be 16-year-old Beau Hossler, who earlier this year qualified for the U.S. Open at Congressional CC where he did miss the cut, but only after impressing everyone watching with rounds of 76 and 77. Hossler, a student at the Santa Margarita HS in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., recently played in the prestigious Sahalee Players Championship at Sahalee CC in Sammamish, Wash., where he finished tied for fourth having led after the first round with an impressive 4-under 68.

The home crowd, all of whom will be given access to the John Harbottle-designed course free of charge and be able to walk the fairways with the players, will be hoping one of the four Washingtonians - Chris Tedesco from Gig Harbor, James Feutz from University Place, Andrew Whalen from Ephrata, and John-Michael Larson of Spokane - can repeat Cameron Peck's victory in 2008. That year, the Olympia, Wash., golfer, now at Texas A&M, beat Evan Beck 10 and 8 in a rather lopsided final. Of the four, Feutz is by far the most accomplished, having won the 4A State Championship as a sophomore at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, as well as numerous other junior titles. He's had his share of injuries in recent years, breaking his collarbone in 2007 after falling from his skateboard, and breaking a finger playing basketball last year. But he's back in good shape now, and preparing for his freshman year at UNLV, where he will hope to emulate the feats of fellow Tacoman Ryan Moore.

Feutz, like everyone else in the field, will need pin-point accuracy off the tee on the Olympic Course, which is hosting its second USGA event in the last five years (the 2006 U.S. Publinks won by Casey Watabu was the other) and excellent judgment of distance with his iron shots to be successful this week. "The course will play difficult," says Larry Gilhuly Northwest Director of the USGA's Green Section. "The fairways will be cut tight and it will play firm and fast. There will be a premium on accuracy."

David Staebler, the championship's director, points to the size of the greens as one of the course's other big challenges. "Because they are below-average size and will be playing firm, they will be difficult to hold," he says. "If you pitch on the green, there's no guarantee you'll stay on it."

Sounds like a fairly typical USGA set up, meaning players with experience of USGA set-ups will no doubt have an advantage. One-hundred-and-twenty-four of the players have had no such experience, however, and Hossler is the only one in the field with experience of the ultimate USGA set up. But then, Spieth has experience of being in or near contention at a PGA Tour event, twice. You've got to think it's between the two of them.

For more details and live scoring, visit http://www.usga.org/ChampEventSite.aspx?id=17179869329.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own web site at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.


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