U.S. Junior Amateur
Wenyi Ding introduces drama to what was unfolding as a rout, but hangs on to become first Chinese male to win a USGA championship
A tale of the tape would have suggested a David and Goliath matchup in the final of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, Wenyi Ding of the People’s Republic of China towering over his American opponent, North Carolinian Caleb Surratt. But it failed to follow the script.
Ding, 17, became the first male player from China to win a USGA Championship and only the fifth international player to win the U.S. Junior Amateur, by defeating Caleb Surratt, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole final at Bandon Dunes in Bandon, Ore., on Saturday.
When the two players posed with the trophy prior to the start of their match, Ding appeared to be more than a head taller, though talent is not measured in height. In fact, Surratt, 18, a freshman-to-be at the University of Tennessee, was 19th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, while Ding was ranked 20th. In fact, based on the WAGR, they were the two highest-ranked players in the entire field, pointing to a competitive final.
Moreover, Surratt entered the week with momentum. He had tied for second in the Pacific Coast Amateur in Portland the week before, and in his previous nine starts, two of them victories, had not finished outside the top 10. And he had never trailed in his five matches leading to the final against Ding.
Yet on this particular day, what unfolded was largely a mismatch until a furious rally by Surratt served to close the margin of Ding’s victory.
Ding, who has verbally committed to attending Arizona State, took the lead for good on the 10th hole of the morning 18 and had a 3-up lead at the lunch break. Then in a five-hole stretch early on the second 18, Ding played them in four under par—two birdies, an eagle and a par—to increase his lead to 6 up. Ding also won two of the next three holes to go 8 up with eight holes remaining.
At that point, it obviously seemed over. Then the unimaginable began to happen. Ding’s first bogey of the day, on the 29th hole, began to unnerve him and he lost five straight holes to reduce his lead to 3 up with three to play, before he ended it with a two-putt par at the 34th hole of the match.
“The first hole I lose, I hit a bad shot with driver, left rough and the ball is unplayable,” Ding said. “I got one penalty. After that the par 3, I think I’m going to win, but he putt in the birdie. At the par 5, really nervous.”
It was Surratt’s own miscue from off the green at the par-4 16th hole that ultimately ended it. Undecided on how to play the shot with a bunker in the way, Surratt changed wedges, then chipped so wide left of the hole that he was left him with a long downhill birdie putt that he missed on the low side.
Ding quickly made a two-putt par from about six feet to end it.
“Really just learning a lot,” Surratt said, explaining what he took away from this loss. “Wenyli played some great golf out there. It was a really a hard-fought battle. A couple of shots I wish I could have back, but it was a good fight, something to build on and learn from. I fought hard. I’m just learning more and more. I’m just going to keep working hard and building my game.”