CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo.—He had just advanced to the quarterfinalist of the 112th Amateur but you wouldn't know it by the way Justin Thomas was carrying himself Thursday afternoon outside the clubhouse at Cherry Hills CC. The 19-year-old Alabama sophomore offered sheepish smiles to well-wishes, not quite sure how he was supposed to react to what had just taken place.
To play another day, the 2012 NCAA player of the year had to send his Crimson Tide teammate, Bobby Wyatt, packing, beating the stroke-play medalist, 1 up, in the marquee third-round match.
"I didn't realize how tough that would be," said Thomas, who will face Australia's Oliver Goss Friday morning. "I was happy but I felt bad for Bobby. I think that says a lot about Alabama golf and our friendship and how close we are as a team."
The Alabama duo live across the hall from each other in an apartment back in Tuscaloosa, hanging out off the course as much as on. Yet both are competitors looking to capture amateur golf's ultimate prize.
"There was very little conversation like in most matches," Thomas said. "It probably didn't help that both of us were losing at different times.
No doubt there was an awkwardness in facing each other, which showed with their sometimes ragged play. Thomas finished the equivalent of one over par while Wyatt was two over.
Wyatt took a 2-up lead through the sixth hole, winning five with an eagle and six with a par. But Thomas bounced back with a par on the seventh and a birdie on the eighth to square the match.
Thomas then proceeded to take a 2-up lead, winning with a par on the 10th and a bogey on the 12th, only to watch the advantage disappear when he made bogeys on the 13th and 15th holes.
All square on the par-5 17th, Wyatt hit an iron off the tee safely in the fairway then watched Thomas double cross himself with a driver, putting his shot in the trees right of the hole. Thomas laid up back into the fairway, but Wyatt decided to layup as well. He then hit his third shot over the green, giving Thomas an opening when he hit his third to 10 feet. When he rolled in the birdie effort he took the lead for good.
"It's tough. Justin and I are great friends on and off the golf course," Wyatt said. "I'm really happy for him. He's a great guy. I'd rather lose to no one."
If it was hard on the players, you can imagine what it was like for their coach Jay Seawell, who was watching the entire match.
"You're just happy this wasn't the semifinals, when there's some big things at stake," said Seawell, alluding to invitations into the Masters and U.S. Open. "It's no fun as the coach because at the end you feel more for the person that loses than the guys that wins. But you know 8:30 tomorrow morning we'll be yelling Roll Tide every time he hits a shot."