Local Favorites Ousted at U.S. Amateur
Cherry Hills' Schoolcraft falls in 19 holes; Spray loses 3 and 2
by Gary Baines
Michael Schoolcraft certainly wasn't the most notable player competing in Wednesday's first round of match play at the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club.
But you wouldn't have known that from the number of people -- a few hundred -- surrounding the greens on the 18th and 19th holes of Schoolcraft's match against Zack Munroe of Charlotte, N.C.
Even on-course TV reporter Dottie Pepper from the Golf Channel was on hand at the end.
Alas, Schoolcraft, the 20-year-old who was playing the U.S. Amateur on his home course, couldn't produce a storybook ending. In fact, the way things played out, it was an agonizing loss. Schoolcraft (pictured above) led Munroe 2 up through 13 holes, but lost two holes down the stretch, then made a bogey on the first extra hole to be eliminated.
"I'm angry now, but I'm just going to be devastated," the golfer from Englewood said. "I mean, it's a tough way to go out. The farther you make it, the more it hurts. This will hurt for a while."
Meanwhile, Justin Spray, who grew up in Colorado Springs and recently graduated from Colorado State University, lost 3 and 2 to Stanford golfer Patrick Rodgers after the match was all square through 12 holes.
"This game is hard," noted Spray (pictured below). "This course is hard. But I'm going to keep getting better and learning."
The two losses leave Colorado without any local representatives in Thursday's round-of-32 matches. The round of 16 also will be played on Thursday.
Schoolcraft, seeded 50th after stroke play, battled back from being 2-down by winning three straight holes in the middle of the round, two of them with birdies. And the University of Oklahoma golfer went 2 up when Munroe missed a 4-foot par putt on No. 13.
After winning No. 14 with a par, Munroe squared the match in improbable fashion on the par-5 17th. In the thick rough near the second set of cross bunkers, he hit his approach to 40 feet and drained the birdie putt.
After both players made bogey on 18, they went to extra hole No. 1, a 327-yard par-4. Schoolcraft drove it into the front bunker and had a mound of sand in front of his ball. His blast came out soft and stayed in the rough short of the green. Munroe eventually sank a 6-footer for par, and after a decent pitch shot, Schoolcraft was left with a 4-footer to prolong the match. With the few-hundred spectators watching, he lipped out the putt on the left side, ending his U.S. Amateur.
With all the attention his match received, Schoolcraft admitted, "I felt the pressure, but I love that. I absolutely love that. When you make a birdie putt or you make a putt to save par it's awesome because (the spectators) are going to be loud. I love that atmosphere. I'd rather have that than to go out and play on a regular Sunday afternoon. So I really really enjoyed it, and I appreciated everyone coming out. It was fun."
Schoolcraft was visibly upset after the loss -- not surprisingly -- but minutes later he was able to put into perspective what he accomplished. He not only qualified for the U.S. Amateur, he made it to the 64-man match play and was on the verge of the final 32.
"It was a good experience," he said. "Not playing well in the first two rounds (of stroke play), it was huge to just kind of figure it out and make the top 64. The takeaway on this was just to keep on fighting, and I know I can battle through the worst.
"I hate to say this, but it was a good experience. I would love to go win the thing, but it's good experience to get into the first round and see how it goes."
Like Schoolcraft, Spray rallied in the middle of his match after being 2 down early. The former CSU and Fort Lewis College golfer actually had a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 12 that would have put him ahead. But Rodgers made a 15-foot par and Spray missed his birdie putt and they halved the hole.
"That was kind of the game-changer for him," Spray said of Rodgers. "He kind of got a little confidence off that. From there he just played steady golf. He just hit fairways and greens and was tough to beat."
Rodgers won No. 13 with a birdie, and 14 and 16 with pars to end the match.
"I just kept getting myself in the wrong spot," said Spray, who made only one birdie on Wednesday. "And my putter wasn't working as well as it had been."
Overall for the week, Spray said, "I didn't exceed my expectations, but I'm happy."
Spray said he intends to turn pro eventually, but doesn't know how soon.
Spieth Ousted; 55-Year-Old Advances: Wednesday's round-of-64 matches featured the ouster of arguably the pre-tournament favorite -- two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion Jordan Spieth -- and a victory by 55-year-old Doug Hanzel of Savannah, Ga.
In the featured match of the day, NCAA champion Thomas Pieters -- who had survived a playoff early in the morning just to make match play -- defeated Spieth, the No. 3-ranked amateur in the world, 1 up.
Spieth, the low amateur in the 2012 U.S. Open, never led in the match, and he missed two putts inside of 6 feet on the last two holes.
"(The putting) has been a struggle this summer," said Spieth, who led Texas to the NCAA team title in the spring. "I've been struggling with my short putts just like on that last hole. And my distance control is pretty off. I worked really hard the last few weeks for moments like that, but I couldn't pull it off."
Pieters, a Belgian who plays for the University of Illinois, is competing this week after not playing any practice rounds at either Cherry Hills or CommonGround, the second course for stroke play. After competing in the European Amateur, he didn't arrive in Denver until Sunday.
But he survived stroke play to advance -- in a playoff -- only to find out that his first-round match was against Spieth, arguably the most highly regarded amateur on the planet. But Pieters didn't mind in the least.
"I was happy," he said. "I knew he's a world-class player and knew it would be a good match. He's a great player."
Meanwhile, at a U.S. Amateur dominated by college players, 55-year-old Hanzel made it to the round of 32 with a 3-and-2 victory over Andrew Biggadike of Ridgewood, N.J. Hanzel, a physician who earned low-amateur honors at last month's U.S. Senior Open, plays with a wrap on his left elbow and is a diabetic who has an insulin pump attached to his shorts.
Hanzel is the oldest player to qualify for match play at the U.S. Amateur since 1979. A 44-year-old, Todd White, also is in the round of 32. If they both win their Thursday morning matches, they'll square off in Thursday's round of 16.
"This golf course is a little bit of a neutralizing factor ... because you have to be so precise," Hanzel said of Cherry Hills. "I am confident in my game. I can shoot under par on this golf course and that will win a lot of matches here.
"As I look at this event, I have no pressure. The kids have the pressure. Losing to a 55-year-old is pressure. The further I go, there’s no pressure on me."
Meanwhile, medalist Bobby Wyatt of the University of Alabama and Chris Williams, the top-ranked amateur in the world, scored 4-and-2 and 3-and-2 wins, respectively, on Wednesday.
Three University of California players made the final 32: Max Homa, Michael Weaver and Brandon Hagy.
For match play results and pairings, CLICK HERE.
U.S. Amateur: All the Essentials
What: The 112th U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship.
When: Aug. 13-19. Matches on Thursday will begin at 7:30 a.m.
Where: Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village (7,409 yards, par-71). Cherry Hills is hosting its ninth USGA championship (3 U.S. Opens, 1 U.S. Women's Open, 2 U.S. Amateurs, 1 U.S. Senior Open, 1 USGA Senior Amateur, 1 U.S. Mid-Amateur).
Format: 36 holes of stroke play Aug. 13 and 14, with each golfer playing 18 holes each at Cherry Hills and CommonGround. The top 64 players will advance to match play, which will be held exclusively at Cherry Hills. The first round of matches is Aug. 15, the second and third rounds are Aug. 16, the quarterfinals Aug. 17, the semifinals Aug. 18 and the 36-hole final is Aug. 19.
Starting Field: 312 players. (6,403 golfers originally sent in entries.)
Winner Receives Exemptions In: 2013 Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, along with the next 10 U.S. Amateurs, providing he remains an amateur.
Tickets: Available at King Soopers stores and at TicketsWest.com. A daily ticket is $17.50. A weekly pass is $85. Kids 17 and under are admitted free when accompanied by a ticketed adult.
Television: Aug. 16 4:30-6:30 p.m., Golf Channel; Aug. 17 6:30-8:30 p.m., Golf Channel; Aug. 18 2-4 p.m., NBC; Aug. 19 2-4 p.m., NBC.