FIRE PIT COLLECTIVE
The U.S. Amateur arrives at exactly the right time
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Fire Pit Collective, a Golf Digest content partner.
PARAMUS, N.J. — Doomscrolling is taking over golf. For the past several months, our curiosity about developments in the professional game have only intensified. Who will be the next to jump? How much money is being guaranteed? Does he not care about human rights?
As I drive down tree-lined Country Club Road, I can’t (legally) check my phone. I can’t indulge in the endless threads trying to tackle the weighty questions that have consumed golf. When I pull into a parking spot, the noise returns, a torrent of words raining down an iPhone screen.
Yet as I walk onto the grounds at Ridgewood Country Club for the 122nd playing of the U.S. Amateur, the focus changes. Everything seems normal again. This is amateur golf at the highest level. For these players, discussions about a career in professional golf can wait. The priority is lovely in its simplicity: Capture the Havemeyer Trophy.
On Monday, 312 players will tee it up on the first of two days of stroke play, spread acorss long, twisty Ridgewood and the demanding Arcola Country Club. All but one competitor will have a flag next to his name. Egor Eroshenko, who just completed his sophomore season at Central Florida, is opting not to compete under the Russian flag, the USGA confirmed. Though not as pervasive an issue as it has been in tennis, the topic is unavoidable. On the World Amateur Golf Ranking, neither the Russian Federation nor Belarus is anywhere to be found.
Just two years ago, the world was dealing with another kind of uncertainty. Was it even safe to play the Am? The show went on, and Tyler Strafaci prevailed at Bandon Dunes. Last year the USGA welcomed the brave new world of NIL with open arms. James Piot (photo, top) hoisted the Havemeyer at Oakmont in what was a knockout week. These days Piot is a regular on the LIV Golf circuit. The NIL acronym feels inconsequential by comparison. Get your bag, as the kids say.
A scenic general view of the fifth green at the Ridgewood Country Club
A slew of great players are here and deserving of the glory (and potential riches) that can come with winning the U.S. Amateur. Just two weeks ago, Austin Greaser, a semifinalist at Oakmont, staged a remarkable comeback against Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira in the final of the Western Amateur. No surprise, Greaser is among the favorites this week. Overlooked as a junior player to the point he spent his high school days cold-pitching Power 5 programs, Greaser landed at North Carolina, where he has developed into a two-time All-American.
The award for the summer’s most consistent player goes to Caleb Surratt, a top junior who on Friday was presented the inaugural Elite Amateur Golf Series Cup. Surratt, who is headed to Tennessee later this month, had a half-dozen top-five finishes and a top 10 in the series, and last month he reached the final of the U.S. Junior Amateur. “I was excited to go head to head with the nation’s best amateurs,” he said upon receiving the award. (Part of the deal includes two chance to go against the pros — a PGA Tour and KFT exemption)
The field is stacked, with 18 of the top 20 players in the world amateur rankings looking to grab one of the 64 spots in match play, which starts on Wednesday. Then there are the players who survived their 36-hole qualifiers, which were staged at 94 sites. The depth of talent combined with the match play format makes it anyone’s game. The champion will have survived six cut-throat rounds of match play, including a 36-hole final.
So as weird as things have gotten in the golf world, it’s a relief that we get to do this for the 122nd time. Enjoy this U.S. Amateur, maybe the last pure event in golf.