The Loop

A little bit of the unusual at Erin Hills

August 24, 2011

__ERIN, Wis.—__A little bit of everything seemed to take place Wednesday at Erin Hills, in a slightly twisted sort of way.

Fog delay? Check.

USGA scoring record? Check.

Two-hour, 20-man, three-hole playoff? Check.

6:54 p.m. starting time? Check.

Conclusion to the first round of match play at Erin Hills GC? Not quite.

Of course that was the one thing that USGA officials were probably truly hoping for in an effort to get the championship back on schedule after Tuesday morning rains prevented an on-time conclusion to stroke-play qualifying.

So it was that half the 312-player field was back at Erin Hills and Blue Mound G&CC (the second course for stroke play) to try and finish the second round. Problem was a fog bank settled in over Erin Hills, holding back the 7:30 a.m. resumption of play for more than an hour.

When everyone was finally back on the course, 22-year-old Gregor Main proved the lowest of them all, shooting a 67 at Erin Hills for a 10-under 132 total. It was a score that not only earned him medalist honors but also a place in the USGA record book as he matched the low score shot by a medalist in the championship, equaling the feat of Hank Kim back in 1994 at TPC Sawgrass.

Despite Erin Hills being setup for competition this week at 7,760 yards, the longest course in U.S. Amateur history, red numbers continued to be plentiful. The cut to advance to match play was even-par 134, lower than any U.S. Amateur in the last 20 years. (The average score on Erin Hills for the two rounds was 75.106.)

"Kind crazy to think I'm at even par and in a playoff to get into match play," said Nathan Smith, the three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and a member of next month's U.S. Walker Cup squad.

Of course, it wasn't any ordinary playoff. Try 20 men for four spots. The players went off in fivesomes, with 10 guys making 4s on the par-4 10th hole. Six of them then made pars on the par-4 11th hole before Stephan Jaeger,David Denlinger,Marty Keppesen II and Bobby Leopold finally claiming the four spots on the third playoff hole.

At 3 p.m. local time, the first round of match play finally commenced, setting up the unusual situation of Justin Thomas facing Michael Stewart at six minutes before 7 p.m.*

** Originally the USGA had a 7:39 p.m. starting time for the final day's match but decided instead to push the final five matches all back to Thursday morning rather than force the players out to play only one or two holes. Meanwhile, the Thomas/Stewart match actually teed off at 7:02 p.m.*>

Six first-round matches were completed on Wednesday, with a few notable winners. Defending champion Peter Uihlein knocked off Eugene Wong, 3 and 1. Uihlein was 4 up with four holes to play, but Wong won the 15th and 16th to make the result closer than the match appeared. The last time the previous year's winner who was back to play again lost in the first round was Chris Patton in 1990 at Cherry Hills (Mitch Voges missed match play entirely in 1992.)

Recent Georgia graduate Harris English, a winner at the Nationwide Tour's Columbus stop in July, defeated Stanford All-American__Andrew Yun__, 3 and 1, in arguably the most high profile match of the first round. Yun was 2 up after eight holes, then English made three straight birdies to take the lead. The two combined to make just two bogeys the entire match.

Scott Langley's attempt to claim on of the last spots on the U.S. Amateur received another boost when he beat__Donald Constable__, 3 and 2. A quarterfinalist at last year's Amateur, Langley had shot a 63 at Blue Mound G&CC during his second round.

Of the matches still in progress, Patrick Cantlay, the low amateur at the U.S. Open, had a 4-up lead on__Max Scodro__ through 11 holes. Chris Williams, another participant at the U.S. Open, held a 3-up advantage on__David Lee__ through 12 holes, and Russell Henley, a winner on the Nationwide Tour this past spring, was 1 up on__Kevin Dougherty__ through 12 holes. Meanwhile, Main was 2 down to Leopold through nine hole.

Matches will resume at 7:15 a.m. Thursday morning.

U.S. Walker Cup captain Jim Holtgrieve had to be happy with what he saw from the seven players of his team already selected to play at Scotland's Royal Aberdeen next month. After the playoff that finalized the 64 players moving on to match play, all but one (Smith) had advanced.