Inside Day 5 at the U.S. Amateur
Travis Vick and Nick Gabrelcik emerge as the players to watch during an action-packed day
By Jordan Perez
OAKMONT, Pa.—On Friday, the U.S. Amateur packed three stages into one day, concluding the weather-delayed Round of 32 and then roaring through the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals. From 7:27 a.m. onward, with barely an hour between matches. By the time the quarterfinals rolled around at Oakmont Country Club, players were near their breaking point in the oppressive heat and humidity. Matthew Sharpstene, for one, sought medical assistance in the 89° temperatures.
Even as he reached the semifinals, Travis Vick said he was still trying to figure out the hydration part. What’s really fueling him is making amends in a USGA championship. In May, the Texas Longhorn reached sectional qualifying for the 2021 U.S. Open, only to be disqualified after discovering he had 15 clubs in his bag, one over the limit.
“It was disappointing because it’s a dream to make the U.S. Open,” Vick said.
The mistake stayed with Vick throughout the summer. At this Amateur he finished fourth in stroke play qualifying and then in match play has taken down everyone from young guns (19-year-old hotshot Preston Summerhays) to teammates to conference rivals. On Friday morning, Vick completed his Round of 32 match versus fellow Longhorn Parker Coody, who in June 2020 had beaten him at the Maridoe Amateur. Vick closed out a 3-and-2 victory with a birdie at the par-3 16th.
“He beat me 2 and 1 (at the Maridoe), so I had to turn the tide this time,” Vick said.
Making a quick turnaround to face Jose Islas of Mexico in a 9 a.m. match, Vick won two of the first three holes and never trailed, thanks to some precise ball striking. Islas was only one down at the turn, but Vick regained control with birdies at the par-4 10th and par-5 12th en route to a 3-and-2 victory.
Two down, one to go.
Vick said he opted for a turkey sandwich and chips to keep him fueled up before his 1-up win over Oklahoma State’s Brian Stark, the No. 5 seed, in his most grueling match of the day. Vick appeared well on his way to semifinals with a 3-up lead after 15 holes, but Stark took the match to the 18th by winning the next two holes.
“I would say my putter came alive this match,” Vick said. “Starting to get a feel of the greens. That’s golf. You might wake up and be striping it and you wake up the next day and you could be hitting it terrible.”
After some much-needed shut-eye, Vick will meet Austin Greaser at 2 p.m. ET Saturday. Greaser, the 24th seed, advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over No. 16 Ross Steelman.
Davis and Goliath
Arguably, the biggest upset in the Round of 32 came with the dethroning of Western Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen, the No. 3 seed, aka Goliath. That honor went to Nick Gabrelcik (below), who’s playing in his first U.S. Amateur. He erased an early 2-hole deficit and won 2 and 1.
Gabrelcik could make a case for being Friday’s most exhausted contender. The self-proclaimed night owl said he has been counting sheep after midnight for most of the week. After finishing off Thorbjornsen in the morning, Gabrelcik found himself in a playoff when Hugo Townsend of Sweden birdied the last. But the 35th seed answered with a birdie of his own at the 19th hole to end the match.
Next up: Davis Chatfield, who won the 13th and 14th holes to pull even. But then Gabrelcik found some late momentum at a hole he had struggled with most of the week, hitting a 9-iron to 5 feet on number 15. That nudged him ahead and he held on to a 1-up victory despite two tired bogeys on the final three holes.
A Florida native, Gabrelcik has a sizable Pittsburgh family presence, all with an affinity for the black and yellow. His older brother Donnie is serving as a caddie who dabbles in motivational speeches. Reflecting on the bogey on the 18th hole that nearly gave Chatfield a chance to extend the match, Gabrelcik said, ”I’m sure I’ll get talked to in the car about that one.”
But Gabrelcik is thankful he has had his brother to keep him loose during a week filled with delays. “We talk about the Steelers, we make fun of the Pirates. They’re not great, obviously,” Gabrelcik said with a sly smile. “But just trying to joke around as much as possible to get our mind away from golf.”
Gabrelcik faces James Piot, a 3-and-1 winner over Matthew Sharpstene, at 2:20 p.m. Saturday. He expects dozen of friends and family in his galley. He had never before played golf in Pittsburgh, but the smiling semifinalist, grinning from ear to ear, seems to feel right at home.