Americans shutout of U.S. Amateur semifinals
__By Ryan Herrington
BROOKLINE, Mass.—It's not quite on the level of__Francis Ouimet's U.S. Open win in 1913 or the U.S. Ryder Cup team's Sunday comeback against the Europeans in 1999, but history has—and will—be made at The Country Club this week.
For the first time since they started playing the U.S. Amateur in 1895 an American won't be competing in the finals.
Or, for that matter, the semifinals.
Victories Friday in the quarterfinals by England's Matt Fitzpatrick (4 and 3 over Adam Ball), Canada's Corey Conners (5 and 3 over Neil Raymond) and Australia's Brady Watt (1 up over Scottie Scheffler) and Oliver Goss (5 and 3 over Brandon Matthews) ensured the all-international Final Four on grounds made hallowed by monumental performances from American golfers.
Somewhere Ted Ray and Harry Vardon are getting in a laugh.
While the spectators might not know much about the players who are still contending, two of them are very familiar with one another.
Watt, 22, and Goss, 19, are staying in the same house this week in nearby Wellesley and have practiced and competed against each other for several years both at home in Australian and around the world. Most recently, the duo squared off in a five-hole playoff at the West Australian Open after they each outpaced a field that included a handful of European Tour professionals by two strokes, Goss ultimately taking the title
The two will clash in one of the semifinal matches Saturday, but not before attending the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees baseball game Friday night at Fenway Park.
"We're great mates," Watt said. "I think we get the best out of ourselves, and with the amount of people out there today, we're going to look forward to tomorrow to show everyone good golf."
Watt beat Scheffler, the 17-year-old U.S. Junior Amateur champion, at his own game Friday, rallying after being 2 down with 12 holes to play after Scheffler had put together three straight come-from-behind wins of his own this week outside Boston.
The two started the day both playing slightly ragged over the first few holes of the match, until Scheffler got the crowd going when he made a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh hole, using a 5-iron from 197 yards. It was the first shot in the quarterfinals since Duke Delcher did it at Pumpkin Ridge in 1996.
Watt, however, took the optimistic approach after the potentially momentum-building shot, telling himself it was just one hole and not the deciding shot (he actually won the next hole to square the match). The same approach held true when he lost the 12th hole to go 2 down. He won the 13th with a par then made a 20-foot birdie putt from the collar of the green on the 15th to square the match.
The two halved Nos. 16 and 17 with pars, and both were in the first cut of rough off the 18th tee, Scheffler using 3-wood and being on the right side of the hole, Watt using driver and being left. Scheffler's approach, came out heavy and landed in the front bunker with a plugged lie. Watt then hit his approach right of the green in thick rough 20 feet from the hole. Scheffler got his ball out of the bunker but left it in the rough short of the green, so when Watt rolled in a five foot sliding putt for par after his chip, he walked away the winner.
Conversely, Goss' win over Matthews wasn't quite as dramatic. The rising sophomore at Tennessee who had reached the quarterfinals at last year's U.S. Amateur, won the first hole when a nervous Matthews, a sophomore at Temple, hit his opening tee shot out of bounds, then won the second with a par. Matthews won the third with a double bogey, but Goss took control with wins on the eighth and 10th holes before closing things out by winning the 14th with a double bogey and the 15th with a birdie.
"I've matured as a player," Goss said when asked about the difference in his game from a year ago at Cherry Hills. "I've definitely got a lot smarter on the golf course and my ball-striking has improved quite a lot, which is huge, especially around The Country Club being with the rough so long and thick and with the length of the course."
In the first group off Friday, Conners started slowly but found a rhythm toward the middle of the course, arguably the toughest stretch on the composite championship layout. The rising senior at Kent State who lives in Listowel, Ontario, won five straight holes from No. 9 to 13, all with pars as he derailed the 27-year-old co-medalist, the first mid-amateur to reach the quarterfinals since Trip Kuehne in 2006.
"I just made a lot of smart decisions and hit the ball really solidly," Conners said. "Fortunately for me, I guess, my opponent got himself in a couple tough spots, and I was able to win some holes with pars."
Conners' semifinal opponent is the smallest (just 5-foot-9 and 133 pounds) and youngest (18) player left in the field, but Fitzpatrick also has the highest world ranking at No. 2. It's the product of a whirlwind six-week stretch in which the 2012 British Boys' champion earned low amateur honors at the British Open and finished runner-up at the English Amateur.
Fitzpatrick, who will begin playing college golf at Northwestern this fall, seemed his usual unflappable self Friday against Ball, a sophomore at VCU. While his putter wasn't working as well as in previous matches, causing him to fall 1 down to Ball after six holes, Fitzpatrick turned things around by holing a birdie effort the seventh to square the match.
Then, in an almost identical fashion to Conners, FItzpatrick won four consecutive holes, starting on the par-4 ninth, to take command of the match. By ending it on the 15th hole, he made it four straight matches in which he has yet to play the 16th, 17th or 18th holes.
While winning big this week, Fitzpatrick's small stature has caused some confusion among officials questioning whether he's actually a player, as was the case at the British Open. His solid play has also thrown plans his family (mom, dad and younger brother/caddie Alex are all in tow this week) had for touring New York City after the tournament into some turmoil.
"We were going to be taking a four-day holiday after this, but each day he extends it we're cutting off a day in New York," Matt's dad Russell said.
Of course, if it means his boy is part of a little history, that's OK by him.