BANDON, Ore.—"The courses are amazing. They're like nothing I've ever played before."
Ask the golfers competing this week at the U.S. Amateur Public Links and Women's Amateur Public Links championships about the Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald courses at Bandon Dunes Resort and that's essential what you hear, the players impressed with this oasis by the Oregon coast.
And yet that's the rub. In most cases, these links courses, quite literally, like nothing they've ever played before, adding a variable that will make the next few days of match-play competition particular intriguing.
How to you adjust to a style of play with which you're not familiar … and when a national championship is on the line? Needless to say, the man and woman holding their respective winner's trophy come Saturday afternoon will have discovered this secret before the week is over.
"I'm used to summer golf, you know point and shoot at soft greens. This plays so differently," joked recent LSU graduate John Peterson, the 2011 NCAA champion who has remained an amateur this summer in hopes of securing a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team that competes in September. "There are so many different ways to get the ball close to the hole."
"It's all about imagination," said Talor Gooch, whose four-over 145 secured the Oklahoma State sophomore a spot in match-play field. "There are 50 ways to play a shot. You just have to pick one and commit to it."
"Pretty much the sand wedge stays in the bag," said Anthony Degol, a rising junior at Penn State playing in his first USGA event, noting that bump and run shots with higher irons are the play in most instances. "We spent a couple hours [the other day] in the chipping range because even if you have a great short game, you can come to a course like this and be throughly lost."
Gooch, who had to play without the benefit of a practice round on either course after traveling from Rhode Island and the Northeast Amateur last weekend, said that he and his caddie are determined to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible. "If we can putt it, we'll do that," said Gooch. Only problem was that at Old Macdonald he had six three-putt greens en route to a 73.
Leave it to one of the few people who does have a familiarity with links golf to be enjoying her stay along the Oregon coast. Scotland's Sally Watson grew up less than 15 miles from St. Andrews and felt comfortable posting a six-over 148 in stroke-play qualifying.
"[The courses are] very much like home," said the rising Stanford senior. "I said to my dad when I got here, I can't believe we just flew 25 hours and it looks like we could have driven five minutes."
Cheyenne Woods admits she thought about the "M" word.
Only one stroke back of Day 1 leader Kelsey Vines, the rising senior at Wake Forest consciously made a run at medalist honors at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship Tuesday, succeeding when she shot a two-under 69 on Bandon Trails GC to be the only woman in the 156-player field to break par in stroke-play qualifying.
"Going through the round I really wanted to take advantage of every shot," said Woods, who finished four strokes better than Emilie Burger, with her one-under 141, "because even though I might have already [qualified] for match play after yesterday, I really wanted to make every birdie I could or save that par because I wanted to be medalist."
"I think just going into match play," Woods continued, "knowing I was the No. 1 seed and I played this course the best, you know that feels good."
The sun broke out Tuesday for the second round of stroke-play qualifying, a far cry from Monday's rain and winds. While scoring improved, however, it wasn't appreciably better. Only Woods, Burger and Lisa McCloskey broke par on the Trails course Tuesday, and just 15 players at the men's championship broke par on the Old Macdonald course.
Only one golfer competing in men's Amateur Public Links Championship broke par for 36 holes as well. Clemson's Corbin Mills shot a five birdie, one bogey 67 at Old Macdonald GC to finish at three-under 138, three strokes clear of Jonathan Randolph.
Mills, a junior-to-be with the Tigers, is playing in his third USGA event but it's the first time he's qualified for match play. The Easley, S.C., benefited from a early tee-time Monday (before the rains became heavy) and late time Tuesday.
"I got blessed with the weather," Mills said. "It was supposed to rain this afternoon, and it was barely windy today."
The first round of match play begins at 8 a.m. local time Wednesday, the men playing at Bandon Trails and the women playing at Old Macdonald.