Inside Day 1 at the U.S. Amateur
An ace for the aged, two wildly different courses and three Japanese stars make their U.S. Amateur debut
By Jordan Perez
OAKMONT, Pa.—Two courses are being used for the stroke-play portion of this U.S. Amateur: big, bad Oakmont and the much more user-friendly Longue Vue Club. On Monday, only one player broke par at Oakmont, and just barely, as Cole Sherwood eked out a 1-under 69. Meanwhile, Clemson’s Jacob Bridgeman tied the course record at Longue Vue with a 63, becoming the Day 1 leader at 7 under. Six birdies and an eagle did the trick for Bridgeman, who noted Longue Vue had a set of tough par-3s. “Except for No. 10, the other four were over 200 yards and pins were in pretty tough spots,” he said. “But the par-5s were really gettable.”
The course record at Oakmont is 63; Johnny Miller (below) will be happy to tell you all about it. No one came close to threatening it on a sweltering day, but Sherwood relied on a simple strategy to navigate Oakmont’s terrifying greens. “When you’re playing a really challenging course like this, the biggest thing is to always have that uphill leave,” Sherwood said. “It takes a lot of stress out of it when you have a 40-footer for birdie, but if it’s uphill you can kind of give it a run.”
Cutting the field from 312 to 64 on Tuesday will be a fascinating exercise with two diverse courses in play. The key will be going deep at Longue Vue and surviving Oakmont.
Shot of the day
Defying old age has been a theme in golf this year, thanks to wins from Phil and Annika. Now Chris Devlin, 46, can proudly add to the list of “cool accomplishments against people half your age”. The first alternate who snuck into his first U.S. Amateur, Devlin (below, pitching in on the 9th hole) produced an ace on Oakmont’s 198-yard 6th hole with a 6-iron. “I mean, it was just exactly the way I envisioned it,” he said. “Beat the bunker there, was just right of the pin, and rolled right down in the hole. So it was super nice to actually get one that actually dropped for a change.”
Devlin, who opened with a 2-over 72 at Oakmont, is nothing if not resilient. He battled a neuromuscular disease and had heart surgery in 2006, forcing him to sit out more than a year as he was trying to launch a professional career. Devlin returned to play his way into the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines but could never break through. He regained his amateur status two years ago and now believes his old age is a virtue. “I’ve got to use my experience,” Devlin said with a laugh. “I’m 46 years old now, so it’s the only chance I’ve got against all these flat bellies.”
Japan’s mysterious trio
Three of the top 10 amateurs in the world hail from Japan. All are playing in their first U.S. Amateur, and Keita Najakima (No. 1), Taiga Sugihara (8) and Ren Yonezawa (9) have embraced the adventure, with the help of new sidekicks. Craig Bishop, a coach of the Japan national team who is based in Australia, brought in a trio of college golfers to serve as caddies for the U.S. Amateur. Two Sam Houston State Bearkats, Jennifer Herbst and Zulaikah Nasser, were on the bag for Yonezawa (below) and Sugihara, respectively. Nevada-Reno golfer Tom Patterson looped for Najakima.
All three players struggled at Oakmont: Sugihara shot 75 but still bested his countrymen, as Yonezawa posted a 77 and Najakima an 80. But despite the disappointing scores, all three were in notably good spirits. Patterson was particularly impressed with his man’s composure, noting that amid all the bogeys they continued to exchange Japanese and English lessons throughout the round, keeping their spirits afloat. “He’s pretty relaxed,” Patterson said.
Yonezawa enjoyed laughter as well as strategy sessions with his caddie. “He’s quite funny,” Herbst said, noting that player and caddie shared aspects of their cultures during the round, elevating the experience to something larger than golf.
What was the funniest bit?
“Just how ridiculous this course is,” Herbst replied.