U.S. Amateur playoff: 15 players, 11 advance, 1 hole, 1 birdie and 1 chunk
PARAMUS, N.J. – The 15-man playoff Wednesday morning at the U.S. Amateur lasted just one hole, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t eventful.
There were exactly four bogeys on the par-3 15th hole at The Ridgewood Country Club, which allowed 11 players to advance to match play with par or better.
There was one birdie, a 12-foot putt canned by UNC-Wilmington junior Walker Isley, who is playing in his first USGA championship.
There was even a chunk.
Stanford standout Karl Vilips was second to play in the first group out at 7:30 a.m. With a healthy crowd of about a hundred spectators already gathered around the green, Vilips sized up his shot – 149 yards, a little chilly, right flag.
“It was a perfect 9-iron,” Vilips said. “Just tried to hit it left, make par and move on.”
What happened next was unthinkable, especially coming from the No. 55 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
“I just got a little quick with my swing and felt all ground,” Vilips said. “Wasn’t great.”
After laying the sod over his tee shot, which traveled less than 100 yards, Vilips was left with a near impossible shot from 53 yards. His lie was so bad in the thick rough that it took a few minutes to find the ball. Finding the green would take something special. Making par downright spectacular.
“I was just trying to give myself a look because everything left of that hole is pretty straight,” Vilips explained, “and as long as I put it on the green and committed to a pretty full swing out of that thick rough, I could give myself a chance, and that’s exactly wat I did.”
Vilips’ ball landed on the front of the green, bounded past the hole and held on about 30 feet from the cup. He gave it a good roll, too, but ultimately the tee shot cost him.
After tapping in for his bogey, Vilips retreated to the edge of the green and watched the next three groups, just hoping that somehow there would be three more bogeys and allow him another chance (Indiana’s Mitch Davis also bogeyed in the opening threesome).
In the next group, a foursome, Ridgewood native Mark Costanza found the front bunker and couldn’t get up and down. Two more.
In the third group, all four players found the green, including Isley, a first-team All-Colonial player as a sophomore after a spring that included his first college win and three other top-5s. Isley had spent the morning grooving about two dozen pitching wedges on the range, his stomach in knots.
“I was super nervous,” Isley said. “My caddie kept telling me, ‘You got this. You got this.’ And I did. Once I hit the tee shot, I got it under control.”
Isley knocked his wedged to 12 feet and calmly rolled in the “dead straight” putt. The rest of the group made par. Still two more for Vilips and the other bogeys.
Once three of four players hit the green in the last foursome, Vilips turned and headed for a cart. His U.S. Amateur hopes had been all but dashed. Moments later, after Nick Lyerly was the only one to bogey, the playoff was over and so, too, was Vilips’ week.
As for Isley, he was headed to dining for a quick breakfast. He and others who survived the playoff, a group that included Pepperdine’s Derek Hitchner and FGCU grad Frankie Capan, would be on the first tee again in a few hours.
Isley’s first-round opponent: Wake Forest’s Mark Power, a Walker Cupper.
Asked his career golf highlight up to this point, Isley didn’t hesitate, saying, “Making match play here.”
Not that he isn’t prepared to top that Wednesday afternoon.
“I did it this morning,” Isley said of advancing. “Why can’t I do it again?”