BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Brad Dalke will forever have a story to tell about how he celebrated his 19th birthday. The big day began with a cake waiting for him in the hospitality room at Oakland Hills Country Club (courtesy of a well-placed phone call from his mom). It ended with him picking up the gift he had been hoping for, a 3-and-2 victory over David Boote in the quarterfinals of the 116th U.S. Amateur.
“It’s probably one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten,” said Dalke, who’ll play USC’s Jonah Texeira in Saturday’s semifinal.
It’s easy to guess what Dalke’s wish when blowing out those birthday candles must have been: Making birdies in bunches. The rising sophomore at University of Oklahoma birdied his first four holes (making three putts from inside five feet and one from 30) to take a 3-up lead on Boote, a recent Stanford graduate from Wales.
Dalke’s hot streak was temporarily dampened when bad weather forced play to be suspended for 45 minutes after the duo finished the fifth hole. When things resumed, Dalke picked up where he left off, making another birdie on the sixth hole to keep things rolling.
By the end of the match, Dalke posted two more birdies (and one bogey) in what was his most impressive round to date this week.
While a hot putter seemingly explains Friday’s solid play, Dalke attributed it more to his driver, which he says has been the springboard to his success throughout his time in Michigan.
“My driving has been really good this week,” Dalke says. “Like today, literally I was telling Grant [Hirschman], my caddie [and OU teammate], that I was just swinging as hard as I can on every drive. I’m just that confident with it.
“That’s something that’s hurt me in the past is my driving. I think now that I feel like I'm a really good driver of the ball, it’s helped me out. Because if I’m playing someone in match play, and they are just hitting big drives down the middle every time, it gets tough to beat them because they are just always having a chance. I feel like that’s the way I’ve been this week. I keep hitting good tee shots and keep giving myself a chance from the fairway every hole.”
If Dalke’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because of his unusual backstory. He’s the youngest of seven children in a family with deep Oklahoma ties—grandfather Ken played basketball and baseball at the school; dad, Bill, was on the 1975 Sooner football squad that won a national championship; and mom, Kay, was a member of the OU women’s golf team. It’s only natural then that Brad was destined for Norman. But when he committed to playing golf there as a 12-year-old, it raised eyebrows from many who didn’t appreciate his bloodlines.
With his college plans secured, Dalke continued to show promise as a junior golfer, earning first-team All-American honors five times and winning three of the AJGA’s biggest events, as well as the Junior PGA title. Yet last summer, Dalke struggled with his swing, something that continued upon arriving in Norman. While his freshman season was solid statistically (he posted a 73.15 average), Dalke knew there was better golf in him.
Beginning in the spring, he has started to find it, thanks to some creativity tinkering. Aware that his swing can get too steep, Dalke began hovering his driver over the golf ball on the tee, a move that seems more suited to a double-digit handicap but one that forced him to round out the backswing.
“It’s helped me a ton,” says Dalke, who began trying this just before the college postseason. “It might look a little goofy; everybody says they are scared when I’m hitting it because they think I’m just going to whiff the ball. But it feels good to me and I like it.”
With his swing coming around, Dalke then applied a band aid to his putter when he started using a claw grip roughly six weeks ago. The switch certainly looked like it paid off on Friday.
“He holed everything, everything inside 10 feet,” Boote said.
After the round, Boote showed Dalke another sign of respect on Twitter.
Suffice it to say, Dalke knows all about social media. A video of Dalke taking down Rory McIlroy in an arm-wrestling contest during junior tournament was retweeted and went viral, growing the junior golfer’s legend even further. Dalke also took to Twitter—he has a strong handle in @DalkeKong—with a proud post-round moment from earlier this week at Oakland Hills after reprising the arm-wrestling make with Fox Sports’ Holly Sonders.
Come Friday night, Dalke was retweeting the birthday thanks from many, before having a celebratory meal with his mom and dad, who came in from Oklahoma on Friday to watch him play for the first time, along with a handful of other family members and friends.
“Hopefully we can go somewhere nice to eat dinner tonight,” Dalke said.
But then it’s back to work, with an early Saturday match at Oakland Hills that brings with it some very fruitful rewards, specifically a spot in the field at next year’s U.S. Open and also, likely, an invitation to the Masters.
Dalke hopes they can become belated birthday gifts.
116th U.S. Amateur
Nick Carlson, Hamilton, Mich., df. Dylan Meyer, Evansville, Ind., 3 and 1
Curtis Luck, Australia, df. Sahith Theegala, Chino Hills, Calif., 2 up
Jonah Texeira, Porter Ranch, Calif., df. Luis Gagne, Orlando, 3 and 2
Brad Dalke, Norman, Okla., df. David Boote, Wales, 3 and 2
Saturday Semifinal Pairings
8 a.m. - Carlson vs. Luck
8:20 a.m. - Texeira, vs. Dalke