Loupe leads Deere, but work left in 1st round

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Thursday, August 11, 2016

It was stop-and-go golf in the first round of the 46th John Deere Classic, and a good portion of the field didn’t even finish.

That’s why it can’t be said with certainty that Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore and Patrick Rodgers will be leading at TPC Deere Run when the last first-rounder turns in his scorecard. But among those who had finished, they shared the clubhouse lead at nightfall after rounds of 6-under-par 65, the best of a day that turned soggy.

The uncertainty comes courtesy of Andrew Loupe, who went around the first 14 holes of Deere Run in 8-under-par before the play was stopped because of darkness at 7:52 p.m. He has an eight footer to save par on the par-4 15th when play resumes at 7 a.m., and then three more holes after that. You can’t predict with Loupe, a third-year PGA Tour regular whose first-round 64 last week tied him for the lead in the Travelers, which he followed with a 76 to miss the cut for the seventh straight time.

“Fourteen and a half holes is not very much,” Loupe said. “I think I got caught up in it last week. I’m not going to get caught up in it this week.”

Loupe called the remaining eight-footer “puttable,” but footprints on the soft turf and the decision of another player farther away on his line not to putt convinced him to wait until the morning.

So he gets to think about it, and the rest of the field gets to think about him.

Tom Gillis is also 6-under, albeit with two holes left in his round.

Of the leading finishers, Johnson is the headliner, the Cedar Rapids native and a former winner who sits on the John Deere Classic board. He was followed by a large portion of the gallery on Thursday, at least before the horn blew at 11:38 a.m. signaling the arrival of a thunderstorm that dropped 1.09 inches of rain on the tournament parade. Johnson was 5-under at the time and added one more birdie in his five post-delay holes to follow Rodgers and Moore in with a 65.

His was the only bogey-free round of the three, which shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s his 12th spotless circuit of the D.A. Weibring layout.

“It was a solid day, not many mistakes,” Johnson said. “If I did get in trouble, I got out in a pretty consistent, good way.”

It would have been a surprise if Johnson wasn’t at least close to the lead. He ran his string of under-70 rounds at Deere Run to 21.

The presence of Moore and Rodgers wasn’t surprising either. It was Moore’s 21st straight under-par round on the course, while Rodgers, after missing the cut the last two years, returned to the form he showed in 2013, when he challenged for the lead as an amateur and finished tied for 15th.

“I definitely feel a hometown feeling here,” Rodgers said. “It’s my fifth time here, and people are incredibly generous.”

He also said missing the cut the last two year and not duplicating or bettering his amateur performance “left a bitter taste.”

Tying for second at last week’s tournament in Hartford, Conn., following some swing changes, helped his confidence as well.

“I’m hitting it flush and consistently through the bag,” Rodgers said.

Now all he needs is success. Moore would like more of it. He’s made the cut the previous seven years he’s played but never finished better than seventh, two years ago.

“It’s a course I’ve grown to like over the years,” Moore said. “Some courses set up well for me and this is definitely one of them. There are angles of play, and that means guys who hit it longer than me don’t have a significant advantage.”

Moore hit 10 of 14 fairways and 15 greens in the first round, with his five birdies and an eagle – on the par-5 17th – offsetting a bogey.

Around Deere Run

Erik Compton was disqualified from the tournament before it even began thanks to not being on site for Wednesday’s pro-am. Listed as the second alternate for the afternoon wave, he was in Detroit and flying in on Wednesday when two players pulled out of the tournament. They were in the afternoon half of the pro-am. With Compton not on the grounds, he was DQed from the tournament for missing the pro-am tee time he didn’t know he had but had to be ready for regardless. Jim Furyk was disqualified for a tournament for missing a pro-am a few years ago, but he overslept. ... The last groups in the afternoon wave have played only seven holes, and nobody in that half of the field has finished. ... The second round is scheduled to begin at 8:20 a.m., a hour later than planned. If expected bad weather misses, there’s a good chance the cut can be made on Friday night. ... D.A. Points went around in 3-under 68, the same as last year, when he missed the cut for the ninth time in 10 starts. He opened with a 66 the only time he’s cashed. ... Geoff Ogilvy, on hand for the first time in a dozen years, went out in 6-under 30 on the back and is 5-under through 12 holes.

Tim Cronin


Meyer beats Horsfield to win Western Amateur

Writing from Lake Forest, Illinois

Saturday, August 6, 2016

This time, there wasn’t an impromptu water bottle shower from Illinois teammate Nick Hardy.

This time, there was a bear hug Hardy applied to Dylan Meyer on the 17th green after Sam Horsfield had conceded the 114th Western Amateur championship match at Knollwood Club on Saturday afternoon.

The margin was 3 and 1, largely because Horsfield, after missing the green on the par-3 17th with Meyer on the putting surface and dormie 2, felt it necessary to go for the cup to win the hole and keep the match alive. Horsfield overshot the mark and after one more stroke, took off his hat and offered his hand.

“He was 20 feet away and I had to make it,” Horsfield said. “I tried to get aggressive. It didn’t work out.”

“I didn’t expect that,” Meyer said. “I thought I’d be putting.”

It also might not have been expected that Horsfield, the world No. 2 amateur from Manchester, England via Florida, would surrender the 2-up lead he’d forged after five holes, especially after roaring back from four down on the back nine of his morning semifinal match against Davis Riley with eight holes to play.

But that happened, Horsfield ousting Riley, who scored 5-under 30 on the front, 2 and 1 by winning six of the last seven holes.

Then, four hours later, the reverse happened, elevating Meyer into the upper ranks of American amateurs. His name now resides on a trophy with the Nicklaus-Woods-Mickelson-Evans crowd.

“He played his butt off,” Horsfield said of Meyer.

The turnabout aside, neither Meyer nor Horsfield played particularly brilliant golf. Including the usual concessions, Meyer was 1-under, Horsfield 2-over, with Meyer hitting six of 13 fairways off the tee and just nine of 17 greens in regulation. Horsfield hit seven fairways and 10 greens.

Where the 140-pound Meyer excelled was in overcoming Horsfield’s prodigious distance off the tee with a tantalizing short game that outperformed his foe.

“That doesn’t bother me at all,” Meyer said of being outdriven consistently. “I know my place. I’m not going to be a Dustin Johnson. I’m going to be a Zach Johnson. I’m going to short-game the death out of a golf course.”

Meyer’s only bogey of the day came on the par-4 fifth, when he failed to get up-and-down from 18 feet to save par, and handed Horsfield his 2-up advantage.

After that, Meyer authored five par saves in seven holes, starting the run by winning the sixth – which Horsfield three-putted for the fourth time in eight competitive rounds – and seventh to square the match. He took the lead on the par-5 10th with his best approach of the day, a saucy wedge to two feet to set up a birdie 4, then ran down a 20-footer to save par on the 11th, punctuated by a fist pump.

“We had the game plan all week of being relentless, just keep on hitting fairways and greens and putting my self in good positions.”

“There was no point that I had total control, because anything can happen in the championship match,” Meyer said. “But going to 17 tee box I felt I had a pretty good chance.”

Horsfield was around the hole all day, but the putts weren’t falling on Knollwood’s stressed-out greens as they had during stroke play qualifying, when he collected 27 birdies. Now a putt would roll by the hole or lip out rather than topple in.

“I had four lip-outs on the back nine,” Horsfield said. “I didn’t play bad at all. Dylan played great. It was a couple bad breaks here and there and a couple lipped-out putts.

“It hurts right now. I’ve never really felt like this in a tournament.”

Meyer’s putts fell.

“I was rolling the rock this week, as Coach (Mike Small) would say,” Meyer said.

Asked what Small would say to him, Meyer said, “Next? Today you won but tomorrow nobody really cares. Enjoy it tonight and tomorrow get back after it.”

Meyer is the first Fighting Illini team member, or alum, to win the Western Amateur. He’s from Evansville, Ind., and grew up playing public courses like Fendrich and Oak Meadow. More recently, he plays out of posh Victoria National, a frequent host of the Big Ten championship.

“If it wasn’t for the support of the city of Evansville and the golf courses back in town, this wouldn’t be possible,” Meyer said.

Around Knollwood 

Meyer’s 4 and 2 semifinal victory over William Gordon was relatively simple. He won the first, fourth and seventh holes and never led by less than 2-up the rest of the way. ... By 5 p.m., about 90 minutes after his victory, Meyer was trending on Twitter, and with a handle like @DJ_DFunk, why not? ... Meyer ranked this as his best victory, ahead of the Fighting Illini Invitational at Olympia Fields. ... Horsfield on the sixth green, scene of his three-putts: “Me and that green didn’t get along.” ... Play on the 16th hole was briefly held up because someone had absconded with the flag. ... Both Meyer and Horsfield are in the field for the U.S. Amateur, played this year at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Mich. ... Along with No. 2 Horsfield, Gordon was 51st in the world amateur rankings, Riley came in 52nd, and Meyer was 68th.

Tim Cronin


Meyer marches into Western Am semifinal; Horsfield also advances

Writing from Lake Forest, Illinois

Friday, August 5, 2016

There was a time when Dylan Meyer and match play didn’t get along.

That’s a long time back.

Meyer, going into his junior year at Illinois caught on through the good offices of Fighting Illini head coach Mike Small. Since then, he’s been stout, and proved it again Friday afternoon, when, despite not hitting the ball quite as well as in his morning match, dispatched Doug Ghim of Arlington Heights and Texas 5 and 4 to advance to the Saturday’s semifinal match in the 114th Western Amateur at the Knollwood Club.

“I played pretty solid,” Meyer said. “I started to hit the driver good, and Doug, he played solid all the way.”

There were two turning points. The first was the combination of Ghim’s three-putt green at the third and Meyer’s birdie 2 at the fourth, which gave Meyer a 2-up advantage. He would never let it shrink.

“I gave him a little bit of momentum with the three-putt,” Ghim said. “I don’t feel I played that poorly. Dylan was playing great.”

The second was the dagger Meyer threw at Ghim on the 13th hole, a par-4 with the tees moved up to 309 yards to encourage players to go for the elevated green.

Meyer laid up in the fairway, 91 yards distant. Ghim went for it and came up just short.

Then Meyer took a 52-degree wedge in hand and stuck the approach 18 inches from the cup for a conceded birdie. Ghim chipped four feet past and missed the comebacker to halve the hole, which meant Meyer was dormie 5. When they halved the 14th hole, it was handshake time.

“He did what you have to do in match play,” Ghim said of Meyer.

It goes back to the lessons learned from Small, and the experience gained in the NCAA tournament’s team match play competition, as well as the made-for-TV East Lake Cup, the last few years.

“After my match with Aaron (Wise in the NCAA final) I got a big boost in confidence,” Meyer said, too modest to mention he beat Wise, the NCAA individual champion, 1 up in the team portion of the proceedings. “I used to do too much in match play. You can think too far ahead in that. Match play is shot-by-shot. Stroke play, you can plan out your entire round.”

Meyer will meet William Gordon, a sophomore at Vanderbilt who hails from Davidson, N.C., in Saturday’s second semifinal, an 8:15 a.m. start. That showdown will be preceded by an 8 a.m. match between runaway medalist Sam Horsfield, who escaped a pair of jams on Friday, and Alabama sophomore David Riley of Hattiesburg, Miss.

With Englishman Horsfield carrying Florida colors, there are three Southeastern Conference representatives in the Final Four, along with Meyer, who waves the flag of the Big Ten.

Horsfield was a nine-stroke winner in the qualifying portion of the program, but that meant nothing when he met Joaquin Niemann, the 17-year-old from Santiago, Chile, in the opening match of Friday morning’s Sweet Sixteen. The lead changed hands three times, with Niemann’s par on the par-3 17th squaring the match for the fourth time. Horsfield had to birdie the 19th to advance to the quarterfinals. There, Horsfield ran out to a 4-up lead on countryman J.J. Grey, a recent Georgia State grad, only to see Grey whittle it away on the back nine, squaring the match when Horsfield hooked his tee shot out of bounds on the 16th.

But Grey squandered his break, bogeying the final two holes to allow Horsfield a 2 up victory.

Riley took down Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, 4 and 2, in the round of 16, then scored a 1 up victory over John Coultas in the quarterfinals.

Gordon toppled Andy Zhang of Beijing, China, 4 & 3 in the morning, and survived 1 up against Baylor’s Braden Bailey in the afternoon.

Around Knollwood

Meyer, Riley and Gordon all survived Thursday's playoff for the final match play spots. ... The result of the other morning matches: Grey defeated Greyson Sigg 3 and 2, Coultas beat Vincent Whaley 2 and 1, Meyer knocked off Michael DeMorat 1 up, Ghim beat Max McGreevey with a birdie on the 19th, and Bailey subdued Eric Ricard 1 up. ... There were small galleries with each of the quarterfinal groups, but no more than 250 people were on hand at any one time for a day of splendid golf. Admission is free. ... Among the rules officials on hand were recently-retired PGA Tour veteran Jon Brendle, who was the set-up man for the Western Open / BMW Championship for years, and former USGA director of rules and competitions Tom Meeks. ... 

Tim Cronin


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


Mitchell golden oldie at Western Am; Ghim lurks

Writing from Lake Forest, Illinois

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Todd Mitchell said college golf has changed since his days in that sphere.

“College and high school kids now are exceptionally talented, play almost every week, practice a lot,” Mitchell said. “They’re like tour players, almost. When I first started, I don’t know if it was the Tiger effect, but he never talked with anybody. And there wasn’t a lot of socializing.

“But I’ve noticed the past two or three years, they come up and talk a lot. They obviously know I’m not in college any more, and ask how old I am, what I’ve done, and then more questions come.”

Maybe it’s because Mitchell is 38, bald, and is as likely to sell you an insurance policy at the turn as he is to shoot 70. He may be looked upon by them as an anomaly as much as anything, like an exhibit in a museum.

That would be a mistake, for Mitchell is as competitive as they come. And 70, by the by, was the Bloomington basher’s score on Wednesday at the Knollwood Club in the second stroke-play qualifying round of the 114th Western Amateur.

Add it to Thursday’s 69 and Mitchell owns a stylish 3-under 139, good for a tie for second, a stroke behind leader Sam Horsfield, entering Thursday’s 36-hole battle for spots in the Sweet Sixteen.

Take that, kiddies.

Mitchell accomplished it despite bogeying three of his first four holes.

“I just basically had a pep talk with myself,” Mitchell said. “Just said, ‘Hey, this isn’t anything new. Just go out and play.’ I don’t know if it was nerves starting out, but I felt I was moving really, really fast. I got into the swing of things on No. 5 (a 426-yard par 4). I hit a shot in there to 1 1/2 feet and made it. That kind of jump-started some things. I made two more birdies coming in and just kind of hung together on the back.

“I’m extremely happy with the way I gutted it around today.”

Gutted was the proper pronoun on a day where Knollwood’s greens – destined to be killed on Tuesday and replaced by new turf – were running faster by the hour. Fred Wedel of Pepperdine, who shot 75-73–128 and missed the cut, called them U.S. Open greens, and not in a complimentary fashion. “It was impossible,” he tweeted.

It wasn’t for Doug Ghim, the Arlington Heights whiz who matched Mitchell’s 139. He eschewed putting entirely on his last hole, the ninth, by chipping in for birdie after his approach skidded off the rock-hard green.

“I’m drawing on the experience of two years ago (when he was at Beverly),” Ghim said. “This course is kind of similar. The greens are firm – maybe firmer than at Beverly. They’re very fast. Very difficult if you’re not in the right spot. You’ve got to commit to every shot.’’

Oklahoma senior Max McGreevy had the move of the day, climbing from a tie for 121st after a first-round 77 to a tie for 18th via a sparkling 5-under 66. McGreevy, one of the several All-Big 12 team members at Knollwood Club, fared far better than Horsfield, whose 75 was a dozen strokes higher than his record-matching 63 in the opening round.

But Horsfield’s aggregate of 4-under 138 keeps him a stroke up on the field, though the real object is to be among the top 16 at nightfall on Thursday, and thus qualify for match play. The cut fell at 3-over 145, and includes 53 players, including Illinois Amateur champ Nick Hardy (141), Hardy’s Illinois teammate Dylan Meyer (143) and CDGA Amateur champ Andrew Price (144), the latter the only mid-amateur besides Mitchell to make it.

Around Knollwood

Defending champion Dawson Armstrong missed the cut, firing a pair of 76s for 10-over 152 and a trip back to Brentwood, Tenn. ... Newly-minted NHL referee Garrett Rank also missed the cut. ... Former U.S. Amateur champion Gunn Yang shot 85-83, his 168 missing the trim by 23 strokes. Aside from Peter Malik withdrawing, Yang was last in the field. ... Aaron Wise, whom Armstrong beat on the 20th hole of last year’s final at Rich Harvest Farms, won on the PGA Tour’s Canadian circuit last week in his third tournament playing for cold cash, and will be at the John Deere Classic next week.

Tim Cronin

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