__CHASKA, MINN.—__I’m still trying to figure out what’s easier to digest … a player shooting 60 in the stroke-play portion of the 106th U.S. Amateur Championship or the same kid saying he’s not hitting his driver all that well?
Twelve months ago, Billy Horschel was hardly on anybody’s radar, a incoming freshman at the University of Florida who had been told by one coach he’d be better off to go to junior college and maybe they’d sign him in a couple years. Since then the 19-year-old from Grant, Fla., only posted one win and nine top-10 finishes in 12 starts as a Gator, earned first-team All-American honors and qualified for the U.S. Open.
Oh and now he can add U.S. Amateur medalist to his resume after shooting a five-under 138 total in stroke play that included the aforementioned 11-under 60 at Chaska Town Course (for a detailed look at the Monday round, click here).
The good news for anyone who might worry that shooting a 60 in a USGA event—two strokes lower than the previous record held by Cristina Kim (2001 U.S. Girls’ Junior) and Loren Roberts (2006 U.S. Senior Open)—is the latest sign of the end of the universe? The feat didn’t come at Hazeltine National GC, where the match-play portion of the oldest tournament in the U.S. will play out the rest of this week. On the contrary, the Brawny H has held up quite well against the top amateurs in the world thus far, with the scoring average for the 312 rounds play there in stroke play being a tidy 78.481. (Horschel could do no better than a 78 at Hazeltine day after his record round.)
In Chaska Town Course’s defense, the scoring average there was 73.741 for two days, hardly suggesting it was a pitch-and-putt.
Horschel, meanwhile, avoided the U.S. Amateur medalist curse with a 3-and-2 victory over Ray Sheedy during Wednesday’s first round. “The driver has been a little shaky,” Horschel said afterward. “It's been shaky for the last couple of days. I've been trying to work on it.”
Hate to see what he might shoot when he gets that thing fixed?
No doubt you’ve got to consider Horschel among the favorites to continue on here outside Minneapolis, although predicting the outcome of a match-play tournament is about as easy as watching soup with a fork. Others to keep an eye on (but don't hold me to it):
• Jonathan Moore—The NCAA champion who is arguably having the best summer of any amateur in the country (win at the Players Amateur, advancing to match play at the Western Amateur, qualifying for the U.S. Open) admits to struggling with match play in the past but made four birdies while dispensing with his first-round opponent Skip Berkmeyer.
• Bronson La’Cassie—An Australian who is a senior-to-be at nearby Minnesota and has as close to a home-course advantage as anyone in the field having played Hazeltine a half dozen times prior to this week. He’s brimming with confidence after winning the Western Amateur earlier this month
• Trip Kuehne—The most famous career amateur around is 12 years removed from his loss to Tiger Woods at the 1994 U.S. Amateur but has more experience in the tournament than any other remaining player, having played in the event 11 times. After defeating his first-round opponent, Chris Rogers, 5 and 3, Kuehne told Minneapolis Star-Tribune “Today’s the best I’ve hit the ball in 10 years. Maybe better than I ever have in my life.”
• __Kevin Tway/Jon McLean __—Famous offspring who are making names for themselves. Tway's father, 1986 PGA champion Bob Tway, watched from outside the ropes when Kevin won the U.S. Junior title in 2005 but is on the bag this week at a course where he finished T-26 in the 1991 U.S. Open and missed the cut at the 2002 PGA. McLean, son of noted instructor Jim McLean, is coming off a solid first year at TCU (two top-10s) and this summer lost in a playoff at the Sahalee Players Amateur and posted a top-10 at the Porter Cup.
• Pablo Martin—The Spaniard who won the 2006 NCAA player of the year was my pick to win it all here entering yesterday’s first round, and was even making me look pretty smart when he was 3 up on __Tyrone Mordt__with four holes left. It wasn’t until the 21st hole, though, that the 20-year-old junior-to-be at Oklahoma State finally ended the match. Maybe this is his “close call” en route to raising the Havemeyer Trophy come Sunday.