Horsfield romps to Western Am qualifying medal

Writing from Lake Forest, Illinois

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sam Horsfield won a 72-hole tournament at the Knollwood Club on Thursday afternoon, and did so going away.

Come Friday morning, that will only mean the Englishman who plays for the Florida Gators has the No. 1 seed.

And that doesn’t mean a lot in the Western Amateur, which boasts the most tested field in amateur golf and a ravenous format the cuts the field to 16 for match play. The medalist is 4-6 in his first round match the last 10 years.

Horsfield’s achievement, though, was a cut above the usual, in that for the second time in four rounds he flirted with the course record – and this time, did so already owning a share of it.

He’d fired an 8-under-par 63 in the first round, and, having separated himself from the field and runner-up Michael DeMorat in the first nine of his afternoon round, felt he could let loose. He led DeMorat by a stroke after both the second round and the third, when they each scored 4-under 67, but went out a 3-under 32 to DeMorat’s all-par 35 to expand the lead to four strokes.

“I didn’t have anything to worry about at this point, so I just kinda played for fun,” Horsfield said. “My caddie and I talked and said we were just going to play it like a practice round. It was just a lot of fun and pretty cool.”

Fun and pretty cool as in birdies on the first four holes on the back, running him to 15-under. If he had been in a match with DeMorat in the final round, he would have been 4 up with five to play. Horsfield parred the 14th, and birdied the next two. At that point, he was 9-under on the round and 17-under overall – and leading by 11.

A pair of pars would have brought him home in 62 for a Knollwood and Western Amateur stroke play qualifying record. Instead, he missed the green with his tee shot on the par-3 17th and failed to get up and down, then hit his approach just short at the last and ran his birdie putt from the front fringe just by the right side of the cup. Missing the comebacker meant two bogeys to finish and settling for 7-under 64 and 15-under 269.

“I hit it really good the first day, and the second day I struggled (to a 75), but today, toward the end of my first round, I started hitting a couple of squirrely shots,” Horsfield said. “I figured it out on the range afterward. I think I was a little bit tired. This afternoon, I was just in control of my game.”

Horsfield plays playoff survivor Joaquin Niemann of Santiago, Chile, in Friday’s opening match of the Round of 16.

“It’s a whole new golf tournament,” Horsfield said. “To make it to match play, you’re obviously a great player. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Horsfield has played well before, but couldn’t quantify how well this performance stacked up.

“I could have been a little bit better, but that’s nitpicking at things. Overall, it was pretty solid,” Horsfield said.

Pouring in 27 birdies in 72 holes usually is.

Around Knollwood

Two Illinois residents and one more with Illinois connections made the Sweet Sixteen. Northbrook’s Nick Hardy (3-under 281) and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim (2-under 282) made it, representing Illinois and Texas collegiately respectively, along with Dylan Meyer (even-par 284), Hardy’s Fighting Illini teammate. ... Less fortunate was Bloomington’s Todd Mitchell, who scored 1-over 72 in the morning and blew up to 11-over 82 in the afternoon. He bogeyed seven holes on the front nine for 42 and scored 40, capped by a double-bogey at the last, in the afternoon.

Tim Cronin

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