The Am Guide: Previewing the 2021 U.S. Amateur
Top contenders and a trio of dark horses as the kids take on venerable Oakmont
By Jordan Perez
The average competitor for the 2021 U.S. Amateur had barely made it to kindergarten the last time Oakmont Country Club hosted the event, in 2003. What the 312 players in the field lack in experience they make up for with robust talent. It’s going to take the right combination of tenacity and course management to outsmart treacherous Oakmont.
Only 64 players will pass the test and advance to match play following two days of stroke play. Here are the players to watch in the fight to flex the Havemeyer Trophy.
Keita Nakajima: There aren’t a ton of measurables for Nakajima in relation to the rest of the field, but his dominance in golf-mad Japan speaks to his talent. The reigning Japan Amateur champion is competing in the U.S. for the first time since the 2019 Arnold Palmer Cup, but now he has the burden of being the top-ranked amateur in the world. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the field responds to Nakajima, whose two recent top 10s among the pros on the Japan Tour stamp him as a deep threat.
Ricky Castillo: Not many players can say they made a 75-footer to take their team to the national championship, but Castillo is that guy. The Yorba Linda, Calif., native has had an extraordinary 2021, leading the charge for Team USA’s Walker Cup win by going 4-0 in his matches. He also racked up top 10s at the Western Am, the NCAA regionals and the Timuquana Collegiate. Castillo’s sharp short game should keep in the mix.
David Puig: Puig casually opened his sophomore year at Arizona State with back-to-back wins. No big deal, right? He stayed hot all the way through the Sun Devils’ postseason campaign, racking up top 10s in the Pac-12 championship and regionals before heading home to Spain and finishing third in the European Amateur Championship. Puig’s red-hot putting figures to be a difference-maker on Oakmont’s notorious greens.
Pierceson Coody: He has been historically inconsistent in the U.S. Amateur, but he’s a formidable talent who has been on a roll in 2021, with a win and six top 10s. A great run at the Western Amateur speaks to some newfound momentum that should prime him well for a tough Oakmont. He’s No. 2 in the world for good reason, and can only add to the remarkable year he had had with his sharp, all-around game.
Michael Thorbjornsen: If there’s enough gas left in the tank, the Western Amateur champ could spell trouble for the competition. He put on a glorious display just a week ago — let’s hope he has caught up on his sleep since moving on to another big test. One of the most magnificent swings in amateur golf, might I add.
Preston Summerhays: Pulling up to the Barbasol Championship when you look like you don’t even shave is what I call Summerhays energy. This kid already has a USGA championship to his name, from the 2019 U.S. Junior. His game has matured considerably since then, even if his baby face hasn’t.
Cole Hammer: The former world No. 1 got his groove back at the end of 2020 and stormed back onto the amateur scene. He has made many cameos on the PGA Tour, including starts at both the U.S. and British Opens. Hammer hasn’t been in the amateur circles much lately aside from some good performances at the Western Amateur and the Walker Cup, but the U.S. Amateur is the perfect place to jump right back in.