Thomas Wins Battle of 'Bama Boys
College player of the year advances to U.S. Amateur quarterfinals
by Gary Baines
Competing against a teammate, and knowing your success means his failure -- and vice-versa -- can be mentally challenging.
It was in the 1990 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club, where Phil Mickelson beat his former University of San Diego High School teammate -- and classmate -- Manny Zerman to win the title.
And it was on Thursday at this U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills, where college player of the year Justin Thomas defeated University of Alabama teammate Bobby Wyatt 1 up to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.
"It was a lot more tense -- a lot more serious -- than I thought it would be," Thomas said of the match between the two players that live across the hall from one another at Alabama. "There was very little conversation, as most matches are. And I'm sure it didn't help that we were both losing at different times.
"It was hard on 18 shaking his hand. You want to feel like, 'I'm sorry man.' But at the same time that's what you're here to do."
Thomas (pictured above at left with Wyatt) and seven other players won two matches Thursday to make it to Friday's quarterfinals. Among the others to advance was Chris Williams of Moscow, Idaho, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world. The University of Washington golfer hasn't ever trailed in his three matches and he won 5 and 3 and 3 and 2 on Thursday.
"When it's one-on-one (in match play), I feel like I have an advantage," said Williams, who recently won the Western Amateur, which concludes with match play.
With NCAA champion Thomas Pieters exiting in the round of 32 despite making a hole-in-one, Williams and Thomas are the top-ranked amateurs to make the quarterfinals at Cherry Hills. While Williams is No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Thomas is No. 5.
Thomas' victory over Wyatt not only featured college teammates, but two top-10 players, with Wyatt checking in at No. 6.
"It's tough, it really is," Wyatt said of facing his teammate. "Justin and I are great friends on and off the golf course. I play him every day, but it's a little different under these circumstances.
"But I'm really happy for him. I truly mean that. He's a great guy."
Wyatt, the medalist in stroke play after shooting a 7-under-par 64 at Cherry Hills, led Thomas 2 up after 6 holes but was 2 down after the 12th hole, which Thomas won with a bogey.
Thomas' bogey on No. 15 after being in a greenside bunker squared the match and it remained that way going into 17. At the par-5, Thomas pulled a double-cross on his tee shot, which ended up in the left trees. A stellar 9-iron out of the rough (pictured at left) put him in the fairway, and he pitched over the water to 15 feet and made the birdie putt to win the hole.
One up going into 18, Thomas played the formidable final hole in textbook fashion, hitting a hybrid and a 6-iron to 20 feet. Wyatt put his tee shot into the right rough, his second finished well short of the green, and his third rolled off the green. And when Thomas nestled his putt to within inches of the cup, Wyatt offered his hand in congratulations.
"He's a great friend on and off the golf course," Thomas, a sophomore-to-be, said of Wyatt, a junior. "Hopefully he doesn't pick on me any more than he already did."
Thomas and Williams are on different sides of the bracket, so they can't meet before Sunday's 36-hole final.
Based on how Williams has performed so far, it would be no surprise to see him in the title match. None of his three matches have gone past the 16th hole.
Williams has made it clear that he doesn't pay attention to his standing in the world amateur rankings, but he was asked if opponents might be intimidated by him being No. 1.
"I don't feel like I'm a very intimidating player," he said. "I mean, look at me; I'm wearing pink."
But Williams sounds like player in a groove, and one who loves Cherry Hills.
"It's awesome to be playing a course like this," he said. "It feels like a U.S. Open. I played (in the Open) last year at Congressional, and I'd say that course is much easier than this one."
Williams is one of four Pac-12 Conference players in the quarterfinals. His Washington teammate, Cheng-Tsung Pan of Chinese Taipei, also made it, as did University of California teammates Brandon Hagy and Michael Weaver.
All told, seven of the eight quarterfinalists are college golfers, with the one exception being 18-year-old Australian Oliver Goss, who will begin his college career at Tennessee this fall.
Ricardo Gouveia of Portugal plays for Central Florida and Steven Fox for Chattanooga.
In Friday's quarterfinals, which begin at 8:30 a.m., Thomas will face Goss, Gouveia plays Weaver, Williams meets Fox, and Pan squares off with Hagy.
Pieters, the NCAA champion, exited after the round of 32, falling 4 and 3 to Canadian Albin Choi. Pieters aced the 177-yard sixth hole, using an 8-iron, but never led in the match.
Meanwhile, 55-year-old Doug Hanzel, the oldest player to make match play at the U.S. Amateur since 1979, double bogeyed the 18th hole from beside the green to lose the hole and his round-of-32 match, 1 up, to Fox. Hanzel had rallied from being 2 down after 14 and was all square going into 18.
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. Quarterfinal matches on Friday begin at 8:30 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. 17 6:30-8:30 p.m., Golf Channel; Aug. 18 2-4 p.m., NBC; Aug. 19 2-4 p.m., NBC.