Amateurs proving they belong
FARMINGDALE, N.Y.--If the early returns from Bethpage Black's rain-delayed first round are any indication, the competition for low amateur honors at the 109th U.S. Open could turn out to be rather heated. Consider that at one point Friday morning, 21-year-old Ben Martin, a senior-to-be at Clemson playing in his first pro event, was actually leading the championship, one stroke ahead of Drew Weaver, a recent graduate of Virginia Tech.
While Martin missed par putts of six, four and four feet on his final three holes to finish at two-over 72, he was still in solid position to make the cut, whenever the second round of the championship actually gets finished. Weaver, meanwhile, birdied three of his final six holes to get to one-under 69 and potentially put himself inside the top 10 at day's end.
Joining Martin and Weaver in the thick of the amateur competition is another ACC alum, Georgia Tech first-team All-American Cameron Tringale, who made a birdie on his final hole to finish at even-par 70.
What's it say about the amateurs -- 15 are in the field, the most since 1981 -- that several have made their way on to the leader board?
"I think there's a lot of good players out here," Martin said. "There's a lot of good players at the college level."
Added Tringale: "Just because there's an 'A' next to you name doesn't really mean anything. Everyone is the same once you get on the course. there are a lot of good players out here."
For many, the motivation to perform well at Bethpage stems from a more specific short-term goal: trying to make the U.S. Walker Cup team. Both Weaver and Tringale have put off turning professional this summer in hopes of being one of the 10 Americans on Buddy Marucci's squad this September at Merion GC. Suffice it to say, a solid finish at the U.S. Open will go a long way to helping their cause.
That Weaver would be the low man of the 15 at day's end shouldn't be a big surprise. For one thing, this is the third different major championship he has played in, having qualified for the 2007 British Open and 2008 Masters by winning the British Amateur title in June 2007.
"I'm much more relaxed now," Weaver said. "Going through those experiences really allowed me to kind of grow, and now, coming into this week, I'm not really a guy that's on the driving range looking left and right, 'Oh, wow, I'm next to Tiger Woods' or whatever. … It's a huge advantage to have a couple of starts under my belt."
In the same vein, having been low amateur (T-60) at last year's U.S. Open, as well as having another All-American college season at Oklahoma State this past year, Rickie Fowler was expected to also be in the hunt for the honors this time around. The 20-year-old, however, shot seven over for his first 11 holes Thursday before play was suspended, then was one over for his final seven holes Friday, posting a eight-over 78, leaving him needing a standout second round play all 72 holes this time around.
-- Ryan Herrington