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Caddies make the difference at this year’s U.S. Junior Amateur

by Steve Mims

When Wenyi Ding arrived at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort for the U.S. Junior Amateur in July, he wanted some local knowledge. So the 17-year old from China requested a caddie from the resort’s respected list of loopers.

“A local caddie has more experience on this course and he could tell me where I should go and maybe when I am putting, which side is higher,” explained Ding, a three-time Chinese Amateur champion who was competing in his first USGA championship.

Two days before the event began, Wil Lozano found out he would be on the bag for Ding.

“Completely random,” Lozano said. “I found out a few days before the tournament who I was getting.”

After two days of stroke play and six match-play victories, Ding and Lozano were taking pictures with the trophy after Ding became the first player from China to win a USGA title.

Ding defeated 18-year old Caleb Surratt of Indian Trail, N.C. 3 and 2 to capture the title in the 36-hole final.

“I was just lucky enough to get matched up with the guy,” said Lozano, who has caddied at Bandon since 2019. “I knew from the start of the practice rounds that I had a special player. It’s an incredible feeling. He got us here, he was the one swinging the club, and I was just happy to be part of it.”

Ding said Lozano was more than just part of his path to the 74th U.S. Junior Amateur title.

“He helped me 100 percent,” Ding said.

After the final match, caddie Wil Lozano and champion Wenyi Ding shared the spotlight together with the trophy.

More than 150 local caddies were on a bag for the six-day championship, including three whose players reached the quarterfinals.

Carl Everts, who like Lozano has caddied at the resort since 2019, helped Luke Clanton of Miami Lakes, Fla. reach the quarterfinals before he lost to defending champion Nicholas Dunlap on the 19th hole.

Fifteen-year old Peyton Simonds reached the semifinals while on the bag for Eric Lee of Fullerton, Calif. before he lost to Ding on the 20th hole.

“That was definitely exciting for me,” said Simonds, a sophomore-to-be at Bandon High School whose father, Jeff, is the assistant general manager at Bandon Dunes. “I helped him in any way I could, but he liked to do his own thing. He knew exactly what he was doing and did a great job.”

Like Lozano, Simonds was randomly paired with Lee, a 17-year old who has committed to play at UC-Berkeley.

“He texted me two days before it started to ask me where we should meet,” Simonds said. “It was a slow incline of getting to know each other, but in the practice rounds we figured each other out and after that it was great.”

Peyton Simonds (right) helped Eric Lee make it to the semifinals, where Lee was defeated in 20 holes by eventual champion Wenyi Ding. Simonds is the son of Jeff Simonds, the assistant general manager at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

Not all the player-caddie pairings were random, as Jeremiah Romero was referred to Akshay Anand of Issaquah, Wash. Romero had caddied for a member at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash. who knew Anand and recommended the looper known as “Jeremiah Bullfrog” after the Three Dog Night song that was released two weeks after he was born.

“We had exchanged texts for a few months leading up to this and went over strategy,” Romero said. “We had two practice rounds and I met him on the range an hour and a half before each round.”

Anand opened qualifying with a 73 at Bandon Dunes before shooting 66 at Bandon Trails to reach match play. He defeated Miles Russell of Jacksonville Beach, Fla. in the round of 64 before losing to Clanton, 5 and 4 in the round of 32.

“At some point in the round I told Akshay, ‘Let’s put our heads up and enjoy the rest of whatever time we have left here and see how it goes,’” Romero said. “I said ‘Let’s fire at pins and enjoy the rest of our time here because you are at Bandon Dunes for the U.S. Junior Amateur and you are going to remember this for the rest of your life, so let’s make sure we have a good memory.’”

Lozano left the week with a lifetime of memories.

“There are a lot of really good caddies here, and it could have been any of them matched up with Wenyi,” said Lozano, a former college football player at College of the Redwoods who began working at Bandon Dunes in 2016 on the maintenance staff. “I was blessed. I feel lucky because it was an incredible experience to have been part of winning the U.S. Junior Amateur as a caddie. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Two years ago, when the U.S. Amateur was held at Bandon Dunes, a local caddie gained national attention when he touched the sand before his player, Segundo Oliva Pinto, took a bunker shot on the 18th hole of a tied match in the round of 16. That created a penalty that forced Pinto to forfeit the hole and lose the match.

“I wanted to help restore the faith in caddies here because we have a lot of really good caddies,” Lozano said. “Hopefully, this helps out the community of caddies we have and gives them respect.”

Ding led Surratt 8-up with eight holes to play before losing five straight holes. He clinched the title when both parred the 16th hole.

The soft-spoken Ding and Lozano teamed up for 151 holes in six days to capture the national title.

“We ended up getting comfortable with each other and learning how to work with one another,” Lozano said. “Everyone asked me if there was a language barrier, but honestly the hardest part was hearing him talking over the wind. It was incredible, a great kid and super, super talented. It was just an awesome experience, I was happy to be part of it. He was the one hitting the ball and I was just telling him where to go.”

Lozano (left) and Jeremiah Romero are longtime caddies at the resort. In the championship, Romero caddied for Akshay Anand of Issaquah, Wash., who made it to the round of 32.

More than half of the 264 best junior players from around the world elected to have a local caddie on their bag for the week.
“Akshay never asked me anything about his swing, it was all local knowledge,” Romero said. “It was ‘What is this going to do?’ or ‘What bounces am I going to get?’ On lag putts, he’d ask ‘How much does this turn?’ He knew that I have seen thousands of putts out here so I knew more about the greens than he did.”

One local caddie said he skipped the event because he didn’t need “some parent giving me a side-eye when his kid missed a 3-foot putt,” but Romero and others eagerly signed up to be part of the national championship.

“I absolutely wanted to do it, I wish I could do this every week,” Romero said. “I enjoyed every minute of being on Akshay’s bag and being in the competition. What I love is the competition, it is another level and strategy seeing the kids play the courses the way they can be played. There are places they can hit it where the average golfer can’t and they see lines the average golfer can’t. You have to reset your mind according to their golf game.”

Simonds, who served as standard bearer for the championship match with his brother Jackson, took tips from getting a close-up look at the world’s best players in his age group.

“I can see what I need to build on, like routines and how to approach the game,” he said. “Other than the swing, because we are all unique in our own way, I saw how to take it in mentally and look at the game.”

Lozano was prominently featured during the final two days that were televised on Golf Channel.

“It wasn’t necessarily the attention or the cameras, it was the pressure of playing against someone equally as good as Wenyi was,” he said. “He was determined and he got us through it. It was an incredible experience.”

Steve Mims spent 21 years as a sportswriter at The Eugene Register-Guard. He was a finalist for Oregon Sportswriter of the Year in 2017.