PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.—You’ll have to forgive the amateurs who’ll be competing at Pebble Beach if they’re feeling a little déjà vu this week. While only two have played in a U.S. Open previously (mid-amateurs Stewart Hagestad and Matt Parziale), all but one of the 15 who’ll tee it up with a little “a” next to their name on Thursday have played the historic links on the Monterey Peninsula under championship conditions.
And they did it only 10 months ago.
Pebble Beach is the rare course that is hosting a U.S. Open the summer immediately after holding the U.S. Amateur (the last time that happened was in 1999-2000, coincidentally also at Pebble Beach). Except for recent Wake Forest grad Cameron Young, every amateur in this week’s U.S. Open field will enjoy the benefit of that oddity, having played here just last August.
How big a deal is that really? Well, while the rough is thicker and pinched in more than at the Amateur, the firm fairways are much like what they encountered then and the greens might actually be a little softer, at least so far early this week. In other words, those who played last August have a pretty good idea for what lies ahead.
“Obviously the atmosphere and the tournament is different,” said Viktor Hovland, who was the last man standing at the U.S. Amateur, defeating Devon Bling, 6 and 5. “But it's still the same course and you still have somewhat of the same lines off of the tees. The greens still break the same ways.”
That’s good news for much of this group when you consider six of the 14 from the U.S. Amateur advanced to match play. That suggests that many of the field found at least some success on Pebble’s idyllic but sometimes confounding course, a confidence booster for sure.
This is the seventh straight year at least 10 amateurs are competing in the U.S. Open and the 12th time in 13 years. Meanwhile, an amateur has made the cut in the Open every year since 2007. Given the caliber of this year’s group, there’s no reason to believe that streak comes to an end this week. The real question is how many will be playing all four rounds.
Here is our breakdown of the players and their chances of making it to the weekend and vying for low-amateur honors. To manage the large group, we’ve got them in categories of confidence, 5 being my best bets to make the cut, down to 1 being the least likely (players ranked in order of even more confidence inside the confidence categories.)
Confidence Level 5
Viktor Hovland, 21, Norway
Stewart Hagestad, 28, Newport Beach, Calif.
Jovan Rebula, 21, South Africa
Hovland obviously has good memories from Pebble after winning the Havemeyer Trophy last August. He turns pro next week, making his debut at the Travelers Championship. That transition can be tricky at times, and might mean he’s not fully concentrating on his game given potential outside distractions. But Hovland, who finished T-32 at Augusta in April, has the chance to become the first player to win low-amateur honors in both the Masters and U.S. Open in a single year since Matt Kuchar in 1998. It’s an extra bit of incentive that might be the difference maker. “I'm thinking about the U.S. Open right now,” Hovland insists, “and when I get to Connecticut next week, I'll be, OK, am I even in the U.S., and then we'll figure that stuff out.” … Hagestad has incentive, too. This is his third straight Open appearance, the first amateur to get in three years in a row since the 1980s. But he has yet to make a cut in his two previous attempts after famously ending a nearly 30-year streak of U.S. Mid-Amateur champs missing the cut at the Masters in 2017. … Rebula, the reigning British Amateur champion, also has major-championship experience, having played in last summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie and the Masters in April, but missing the cut in both. Even so, Ernie Els’ nephew, who also won the SEC individual champion at Auburn in April, has the game get to the weekend.
Confidence Level 4
Cameron Young, 22, Scarsborough, N.Y
Matt Parziale, 32, Brockton, Mass.
Chun-An (Kevin) Yu, 20, Taiwan
The most well-known name of this bunch is Parziale, who won the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur and took a leave of absence as a firefighter in Massachusetts to enjoy the spoils of victory. He played in the 2018 Masters and then shared low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. After his dream summer ended—which including getting married before playing the U.S. Amateur at Pebble—so did his days as a firefighter as Parizale returned home to start a new career in the insurance business. It would appear the new job has given him time to sneak in a little more golf—he reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball in May before advancing through U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying. … Those who live in the New York Metropolitan area have likely heard of Young, who won the New York State Open as an amateur in 2017, while also claiming three college titles as a senior this past season at Wake. Young's father, David, is the head professional at Sleepy Hollow Country Club. … The most talented of this threesome, however, might be Yu, who just earned first-team All-American honors at Arizona State after finishing third at the NCAA Championship.
Confidence Level 3
Devon Bling, 19, Ridgecrest, Calif.
Austin Eckroat, 20, Edmond, Okla.
Daniel Hillier, 20, New Zealand
Kevin O’Connell, 30, Jacksonville, Fla.
Bling, a rising junior at UCLA, made the cut in the Masters, finishing 55th. That and memories of his run to the finals at the U.S. Amateur at Pebble last August have to make him optimistic about his chances this week. … Eckroat, who just finished his sophomore year at Oklahoma State, is playing in his first pro tournament. He might not get the headlines that teammate Hovland or NCAA player of the year Matthew Wolff, but he did have a win and six top-10 finishes in college this past season. … If you’re looking for a sneaky pick among the amateurs, Hillier might be your man. He birdied four of his final six holes during sectional qualifying in England to earn his way to Pebble. And at the U.S. Amateur last year, shared medalist honors. … O’Connell is the reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who has a chance at playing on the U.S. Walker Cup team this September with a good showing this week.
Confidence Level 2
Chandler Eaton, 21, Alpharetta, Ga.
Michael Thorbjornsen, 17, Wellesley, Mass.
Brandon Wu, 22, Danville, Calif.
Eaton will be a senior at Duke in the fall and was an All-ACC selection this past season after having six top-10 finishes along with a T-15 at NCAAs. Both of his parents played college golf. Our only reservation here is that this is his first start in a pro event, so nerves might come into play. … Same for Thorbjornsen, won the U.S. Junior title at Baltusrol last summer when he defeated good friend and junior phenom Akshay Bhatia in the final. He’ll be a senior in high school this fall and has made a verbal commitment to play at Stanford in college. … Given this, he might want to connect with Wu, who just wrapped up his college career with the Cardinal last month by helping the team claim the NCAA title.
Confidence Level 1
Noah Norton, 20, Chico, Calif.
Spencer Tibbits, 20, Vancouver, Wash.
Norton has been a starter at Georgia Tech for all but one event during his first two seasons with the Yellow Jackets, and had a 70.73 stroke average in 2018-’19. He lives a few hundred miles away from Pebble, and says that he and his family came to watch the U.S. Open when it was played here in 2010. Not long after he made it a goal to try to qualify for the Open the next time it came to Pebble. … Tibbits also is two years into his college career, having been an honorable mention All-Pac 12 selection at Oregon State this past season.