Northern California was well represented in the opening field of the USGA’s 2015 U.S. Amateur Championship, being played 17-23 August, 2015 at Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Illinois. Eighteen players from the northern half of the Golden State advanced out of local qualifying tournaments to be part of the field of 312 hopefuls who took part in the stroke play portion of the tournament. After some hard-fought golf which included an 18-for-10 playoff to close out stroke play, and some close matches in the Round of 64, only two NorCal players, Portola Valley’s Maverick McNealy and Bryson DeChambeau of Clovis, remained.
The 312-man field featured players from 42 states and the District of Columbia, and 22 foreign countries, with ages ranging from 14 to 62 years of age. California led the way among the United States with 44 players in the field for the championship, and NorCal golfers can be proud of the fact that we are proportionally better represented than our Southern California brethren with two of 18 in the Round of 32, while two of 26 SoCal players advanced.
The first round of match play pitted two NorCal players – DeChambeau and Monterey’s Robbie Salomon – against each other, automatically culling one man from NCGA territory from the field. In another quirk of the stroke play results, only one of the two remaining NorCal players will have the chance to advance all the way to the final round – their bracket positions dictate that should McNealy and DeChambeau each advance out of the Round of 32 Thursday morning, they will face each other in the quarterfinal round on Thursday afternoon.
McNealy, 19, a rising junior at Stanford who is ranked #2 in the world in amateur golf, had a tough opponent on his hands in the first round of match play. Paired up against Austin Connelly of Canada, #18 in the amateur rankings, McNealy was in a strong position with a 4-up lead seven holes into the match before the Canadian went on a tear. Out of the the next six holes Connelly won five, four with birdies, to overtake McNealy and go one up.
Being the longer hitter of the two, McNealy was impressed with Connelly’s game.
“Yeah, his game blew me away,” McNealy said. “For a guy who hits it as far as he does, I would say he’s one of the best in the world… I was hitting my 3-wood maybe 30 yards by him, and he was stuffing long irons in about 5, 10 feet, and I was like, where did that come from?”
Increasing winds in the latter part of their round took their toll on Connelly’s game, and McNealy won the 14th and 15th holes with pars to go up by one. The pair matched scores over the last three holes of the match – par-bogey-par – giving McNealy the victory and a ticket to the next round.
The Stanford star has been on the go practically non-stop since last week, and his fatigue showed in the early rounds. McNealy won the NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship last Friday, and was up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning and on his way to Illinois. He managed two practice holes Saturday afternoon before thunderstorms cleared the course, and after a player’s reception Saturday night got up and got in a practice round on the Olympia Fields South Course Sunday morning.
McNealy teed off at 8:40 a.m. Monday in the first round of stroke play. After a mediocre (for him ) 2-over 72 he went out for more practice, despite feeling exhausted. A late Tuesday afternoon second round left him stranded with two holes to play when another weather delay shut the course down. After sleeping on the cutline, McNealy closed out his last two holes on Wednesday morning to take an even-par 70 into the house for a total of 142 and the No. 39 seed.
Oddly enough, McNealy will face another Maverick – the improbably named Maverick Antcliff, of Augusta, Georgia – at 8:40 a.m. in the Round of 32.
Northern California’s other player who is still alive in match play is Bryson DeChambeau, 21, of Clovis, a senior at Southern Methodist University. DeChambeau had to deal with some confusion concerning his tee time for the first round of match play, an issue which put him in danger of being disqualified for missing his tee time, and which temporarily saddled him with a two-stroke penalty. After consultation with USGA officials, during which the SMU senior presented the official time slip which he had been given with his tee time on it, the penalty was overturned.
The confrontation at the first tee and the near-DQ caused the usually unflappable DeChambeau some consternation and he admitted to being flustered through the first two holes of his match. His opponent, Salomon, might have wished for a longer-lasting effect from the rushed start, because the Clovis man quickly righted the ship.
From the third hole on, DeChambeau won eight of ten holes (four with birdies), including six straight – numbers five through ten – and never lost one. The eight and six win was the most-lopsided of DeChambeau’s career.
“This is the first time I’ve won a match eight & six or whatever it was,” he said, “so it’s going to be nice to be able to relax a little bit, get my wits about me from what happened yesterday and the day before and get ready to go tomorrow.”
DeChambeau will play #10 seed Matt NeSmith of North Augusta, South Carolina, at 8:50 a.m. Thursday morning.
Coverage of Thursday’s rounds will be available via live feed on USGA.org from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 EDT, and on FoxSports1 from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.