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Semifinals set at U.S. Amateur with two California players in the hunt

by Mike Stubbs on August 17, 2012

The University of California's Michael Weaver advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur. (Copyright USGA/John Mummert)

Steven Fox, 21, of Hendersonville, Tenn., defeated the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur, Chris Williams, 21, of Moscow, Idaho, 4 and 2, in the quarterfinals Friday at the 2012 U.S. Amateur Championship  being conducted at 7,409-yard, par-71 Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado.

Other quarterfinal winners included Justin Thomas, 19, of Goshen, Ky., who is No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), and a pair of University of California-Berkeley teammates: Michael Weaver, 21, of Fresno, Calif., and 19-year-old Brandon Hagy, of Westlake Village, Calif.

It’s the first time in a decade that the U.S. Amateur will feature four semifinalists from the United States. The 2002 championship’s final four at Oakland Hills C.C. was Ricky Barnes (winner), Hunter Mahan (runner-up), Bill Haas and Dustin Bray.

The semifinals are scheduled Saturday with Thomas facing Weaver at 8 a.m. MDT, and Fox facing Hagy at 8:15 a.m. The matches will be broadcast by NBC on tape delay from 4 to 6 p.m. EDT.

The 2012 U.S. Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. It began on Monday with a field of 312 golfers playing 36 holes of stroke play at Cherry Hills Country Club and the companion qualifying venue, CommonGround Golf Course. The low 64 scorers advanced to match play, which started Wednesday and concludes with a 36-hole final on Sunday, starting at 7:30 a.m. MDT.

Fox, a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, had not defeated anyone higher than 2,367th (Doug Hanzel in the round of 32) in the WAGR prior to Friday’s encounter with Williams. But Fox, one of the final three survivors of Wednesday’s 17-for-14 playoff to determine the last spots in the match-play draw and ranked 127th in the WAGR, jumped ahead of the 2011 USA Walker Cup Team member and recent Western Amateur champion.

“I was nervous the first couple of matches, but for some reason, this match I kind of felt at home,” said Fox, who is bidding to join Clay Ogden (2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links) as the only No. 63 seeds to win a USGA championship. “I was having fun with the gallery and just enjoying myself out there.”

The lanky Fox handed Williams his first deficit of the week – after 50 holes – when he won the par-4 third with a birdie-3. A winning par at the fourth hole and 11-foot birdie at the par-3 sixth extended the lead to 3 up.

Williams, a University of Washington senior, went 4 down at the ninth after leaving his second shot in a fairway bunker when his ball hit the lip and caromed back over his head. Fox, who found the same fairway bunker off the tee, got up and down for a winning par.

“I knew I had to play well and bring out my ‘A’ game,” said Fox. “To be 4 up after nine was beyond expectations. I thought it was going to be a really close match, giving respect to him being the world’s No. 1 amateur.”

Added Williams: “He played great. I didn’t win a hole until the 14th. Obviously, you want to go all the way, but only one guy can win. I’m happy. I feel good about my game. It’s been a lot of golf the last two weeks and I’m ready to hang it up for a little while.”

Comfortable with the big margin, Fox, who shot the equivalent of three under par with match-play concessions, played more conservatively over the next seven holes and he closed out Williams at No. 16 with a birdie.

While Fox won the 2011 Tennessee Golf Association Match Play Championship and is a two-time All-Southern Conference selection, this week’s performance has been the best of his career. He also credited playing last month’s U.S. Amateur Public Links at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah, where he reached the round of 16, for preparing him to play at high altitude.

“This is by far the best I’ve ever done in my career,” said Fox.

In a see-saw match, Thomas finally pulled ahead early on the second nine against world No. 38 Oliver Goss, of Australia, at 18 the youngest among the eight quarterfinalists, and held on for a 2-up win, getting one step closer to his second USGA final in the last three seasons. He lost to Jim Liu in the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur championship match.

“It’s the same thing as the first-round match,” said Thomas of his mind-set going forward. “You can’t get ahead of yourself and can’t think about anything that could happen in the future. It doesn’t matter if it’s to get in the finals or if it’s to get into the second round. You’ve got to just try to beat that person you’re playing and just try to play smart but aggressive at the same time. [You] just have to try to win more holes than the other guy so you can keep on moving on.”

Thomas, who beat medalist and University of Alabama teammate Bobby Wyatt in the third round Thursday afternoon, fell 2-down early, but won holes seven through nine to take a 1-up lead at the turn. He lost No. 10 to a Goss birdie, but birdies at the par-5 11th and par-3 12th put Thomas ahead for good. At the 11th hole, Goss reached in two shots, but three-putted for par, while Thomas got up and down for birdie from short of the green.

“That was a big momentum shift right there,” said Thomas, the winner of the 2012 Fred Haskins Award and Jack Nicklaus Award as college player of the year, and the 2012 Phil Mickelson Award as the freshman of the year. “It was a hard match … and it feels great to be moving on.”

Goss made a late push by winning the the par-5 17th with a bogey-6 after Thomas found the water twice and took an 8, but Thomas responded at No. 18 with a winning par to close the proceedings.

Gouveia, like Williams, had not trailed through his first three matches. But that streak ended at 47 holes when the 149th-ranked Weaver won the par-4 second with a par. A birdie at the par-5 fifth and two winning pars at Nos. 8 and 9 put Weaver, a redshirt junior at California, in the driver’s seat, as he cruised to a 4-and-3 victory.

“I knew it was going to be a tough match,” said Weaver of Gouveia, a University of Central Florida junior who is ranked No. 41 in the world. “He kind of struggled a bit today and I was able to take advantage of that on the front nine. I really thought I didn’t make any mistakes on the front, and that was key because it kind of got a little shaky after the turn. Fortunately, I had a nice 4-up lead to give me a cushion.”

It’s been a dream-like run this week for Weaver, who needed to play three playoff holes Wednesday morning to get into the draw. He rallied from a 3-down deficit after 11 holes to beat 2011 USA Walker Cup member Patrick Rodgers in the second round Thursday morning and went 19 holes to oust Albin Choi of Canada, who is No. 40 in the WAGR, in the round of 16.

“Awesome,” said Weaver, who was the equivalent of one under par, with the usual match-play concessions. “I am having a great week and I couldn’t be happier. I played really well against Patrick Rodgers … and in the other three matches, I feel like I have really managed my game well.”

Weaver took a year off from golf last year at Cal to focus on academics after changing majors from interdisciplinary studies to the prestigious Haas Business School.

His teammate, Hagy, did the same thing two years ago and it certainly hasn’t affected his golf game.

Ranked 60th in the WAGR, Hagy also overcame an early two-hole deficit against world No. 21 and 2011 U.S. Open qualifier Cheng-Tsung Pan, 20, of Chinese Taipei, to post a 4-and-3 win.

A conceded eagle-3 at the par-5 fifth started the rally, which continued with Hagy winning the par-3 sixth with a par to square the match. He pulled ahead for good with a birdie-3 at the 411-yard seventh. A winning par at the 446-yard 10th and a 40-foot eagle putt at 11 pushed Hagy’s advantage to 3 up on the University of Washington sophomore.

The two halved the next three holes before Hagy closed out the match with a birdie at the 187-yard 15th hole.

“It feels incredible,” said Hagy. “[I] actually started tearing up a little bit in my [Golf Channel] interview out there with Dottie Pepper, so I guess that kind of shows you what it means. I’ve been playing well, and it means the world.  It validates all the hard work that I put in and all the practice.”

– Courtesy David Shefter, USGA

Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Results from Friday’s quarterfinal matches at the 2012 U.S. Amateur being conducted at the par-71, 7,409-yard Cherry Hills Country Club:

Upper BracketJustin Thomas, Goshen, Ky. (139) def. Oliver Goss, Australia (138), 2 up
Michael Weaver, Fresno, Calif. (143) def. Ricardo Gouveia, Portugal (140), 4 and 3

Lower BracketChris Williams, Moscow, Idaho (138) def. Steven Fox, Hendersonville, Tenn. (143), 4 and 2
Brandon Hagy, Westlake Village, Calif. (137) def. Cheng-Tsung Pan, Chinese Taipei (134), 4 and 3

Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Pairings and starting times for Saturday’s semifinal matches at the 2012 U.S. Amateur being conducted at the par-71, 7,409-yard Cherry Hills Country Club. (All times MDT)

8 a.m. – Justin Thomas, Goshen, Ky. (139) vs. Michael Weaver, Fresno, Calif. (143)
8:15 a.m. – Steven Fox, Hendersonville, Tenn. (143) vs. Brandon Hagy, Westlake Village, Calif. (137)

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