Xiong zips his way to Western Am medal

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ruben Sondjaja’s day at Skokie Country Club started at around 7:30 a.m. It ended at 8:15 p.m., when he finished the 36th hole of a grind that saw him fall from the lead to a tie for third place in the Western Amateur’s stroke-play qualifying with an ignominious quadruple bogey 8.

The Australian properly took the long view.

“I’m in the Sweet Sixteen,” he said. “That’s where you want to be. From here, it’s game on.”

Exactly. In fact, he tied for third with Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Nick Voke of Auckland, New Zealand, three strokes behind medalist Norman Xiong of Canyon Lake, Calif., whose astonishing 66-65 on Thursday at Skokie Country Club for a 72-hole aggregate of 14-under-par 270 means only that he’ll get a better seed when match play commences on Saturday morning.

It won’t happen until after a four-for-three playoff takes place at 7 a.m. to determine the 14th, 15th and 16th qualifiers. Two thunderstorm delays totaling 2 hours 21 minutes shoved the proceedings back enough that Sondjaja and Brad Dalke, the last pair, finished eight minutes past sunset. Much of their last two hours was spent in the rain, a few minutes of it in a blinding downpour. 

“It was tough,” Songjaja said. “It was physically tough and mentally demanding too, with all the starts and rain delays. It’s very hard to your mind in a position to compete.”

He holed out from a bunker on the par-4 17th to jump back to 15-under after a bogey on the 16th, but yanked his tee shot out of bounds at the 18th, which is playing as a 646-yard uphill par-4 this week, and then pulled his next tee shot barely out of bounds as well. He finally found the fairway with his fifth shot and scrambled to an 8.

“I had a few faults at the end, unfortunately,” Sondjana said. He also doubled 18 in the morning round, so his 6-over performance on Skokie’s toughest hole cost him dearly when it came to grabbing the medalist’s trophy.

As he said, the more important one remains. After the equivalent of a PGA Tour weekend, compressed into three days, now the hard work begins: four rounds of match play across two days for the finalists.

Xiong moved to the front from the back half of the field, finishing on the par-3 ninth hole in each round. He’s made 21 birdies and two eagles in four rounds – he’s 5-under on the par-5 seventh – and was 15-under in his last 54 holes after opening with a 1-over 72.

“I think there was a glimpse of it, but my goal was to just get into the Sweet Sixteen,” Xiong said of winning the qualifying medal. “I knew if I just played my game, I could get in there pretty solidly. Things got hot with my putter in the beginning of both rounds, and things went my way.”

He opened the final round with four straight birdies, and closed with birdies on the Nos. 3, 6 and 7. Then he waited, and when Sondjaja’s tee shots went haywire at the 18th, Xiong ascended to the top.

Xiong will play the No. 16 qualifier, whoever that is, from the quartet doing battle in the morning.

Around the greens

Hardy, the Illinois senior with the local following, was the only player with four rounds in the 60s (69-68-67-69). ... There wasn’t a great surprise in seeing Tony Romo miss the cut after rounds of 80-82. The surprise was that he was slapped with a one-stroke penalty for slow play. The WGA has timing stations are various points of the course, and Romo was late enough to get hit with the extra stroke.

Tim Cronin

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