BROOKLINE, Mass.__—They're playing the United States Amateur this week at The Country Club, but the 113th edition of the championship took a decided international look Thursday afternoon. Five of the eight players advancing to the quarterfinals hail from outside the U.S., the largest foreign contingent at least since match play was reinstated in the championship in 1973.
Two Englishmen (Neil Raymond and Matt Fitzpatrick), two Australians (Oliver Goss and Brady Watt) and a Canadian (Corey Conners) were among those moving on, with a trio of Americans (Scottie Scheffler,Adam Ball and Brandon Matthews) rounding out the Elite 8.
Three years ago the USGA altered the qualifying criteria for the U.S. Amateur, adding an exemption into the championship field for anyone among the top 50 players on the World Amateur Golf Ranking the day entries close. That change made competing in the event more feasible for many international players who previously found it prohibitive from a time and money standpoint to come to the States to trying and play in a sectional qualifier then, if they actually succeeded, return again shortly later to play in the championship.
"The plan was for me to turn pro this year, and I managed to get myself inside the top 50 in the world," explained Raymond, after dispatching Nathan Holman (an Australian), 1 up in the third round. "I spoke to a few guys within England golf … I don't have to qualify, what do that think about that opportunity [to play the U.S. Amateur]? And they said go for it. It's a great event. One of the bet courses in American, if not the world Come out and enjoy."
Ask him his occupation and Raymond quickly tells he's a full time golfer, getting assistance from Golf England as well as his parents. He said he hadn't previously turned professional because he didn't have the game for it, but in the last two year has dedicated himself to the sport in hopes of eventually making a living out of it.
While nine years Raymond's junior, Fitzpatrick is the more heralded of the two Englishman trying to become the first to win the U.S. Amateur since Harold Hilton in 1911, having won the British Boys championship last summer and then earning low amateur honors at the British Open last month at Muirfield. The 18-year-old will be playing college golf at Northwestern this fall, and knocked off another incoming college player, Texas' Gavin Hall, 4 and 3 in the third round.
"It's been an incredible few weeks, that's for sure," said Fitzpatrick, a slender young man who when asked his height and weight devilishly noted "short and light."
The exemption into the Amateur inspired Watt, a co-medalist with Raymond during stroke-play qualifying, to spend the entire summer over in the U.S. The 22-year-old arrived in late June and traveled around the country, playing in the Sahalee Players, Players Amateur, Southern Amateur, Porter Cup and Western Amateur.
"When I knew I was able to play here, everything else kind of just made sense," said Watt, a 2-and-1 winner over Canada's Charlie Hughes in the third round.
Watt has roomed in part this summer with Goss, a 18-year-old who reached the quarterfinals for a second straight year with a 3-and-1 win over Xander Schauffele.
As for the Americans, just one arrived at The Country Club with much fanfare. A month ago Scheffler, a high school senior to be from Dallas, claimed the U.S. Junior title. His run of match-play success continued here this week, although, it hasn't been easy. He won both his first and second round matches in 20 holes then defeated third-round opponent Matthias Schwab of Austria 1 up after being 2 down with three holes to play.
Meanwhile, Matthews (a 3-and-2 winner over Charlie Danielson) and Ball (6-and-5 over Chelso Barrett) are rising sophomores at lower profile college programs, Temple and VCU, respectively. Matthews ranks 415th in the world amateur ranking and gained his first claim to fame earlier this summer when he holed a chip on the final hole of his U.S. Open sectional qualifier (captured on video) that he thought meant the difference in getting one of the last spots into the field at Merion GC. It was the case until shortly later Hall made four straight birdies to sneak ahead of Matthews and grab that final spot.
Ball, No. 776 in the world, wasn't even official in the field here at The Country Club until 11 days ago when he got a call saying he got off the alternate list. The son of VCU men's golf coach Matt Ball, Adam had shot 11 under in his qualifier but lost in a playoff for the final spot.
"When I got the call, I was really happy," Ball said. "And from the time I got here, I knew this was a course that suited my game. I don't hit it very long, but I hit it straight and that's the key here."