by Ron Richmond
Steady play over two days put Sam Foust in position to see his name engraved on a hallowed golf trophy.
The Edina, Minn., native, coming off his sophomore season at the University of Oregon, parlayed four birdies into a 2-under 70 to claim medalist honors by two shots at the 116th Pacific Northwest Men’s Amateur Championship at Emerald Valley Golf & Resort on Tuesday.
Foust, who shot a 3-under 69 in the opening round, finished at 139, thanks in large part to his nine birdies and only four bogeys over 36 holes on the 7,145-yard layout that the Ducks play on a regular basis. Three players — Oregon teammate Edwin Yi, Washington freshman Henry Lee and former Arizona standout Reid Hatley — tied for second at 141.
“It feels good, given that it’s not really a stroke-play event,” Foust said. “It still feels good to be up at the top, and my game feels good. I feel confident going into match play tomorrow. I thought I played almost a little better today than yesterday. I didn’t putt quite as well today but shot about the same score, and that’s all that really mattered.”
Sharing fifth place at 142 were Chase Carlson of Tacoma and Carson Barry, a 2018 Oregon State commit, of Eagle, Idaho. Drew McCullough of Richland, Wash., and Derek Bayley of Rathdrum, Idaho, tied for seventh at 143, as only eight players in the 168-man field finished under par.
One other player, Li Wang of Sammamish, Wash., made a late charge up the leaderboard Tuesday to reach 3-under through 13 holes. However, Wang, who matched an NCAA record with a 60 this spring as Yale’s senior captain, was derailed by a 9 on the par-4 14th and settled into a tie for 25th place at 147.
It took an eight-way playoff after the second round to determine the final three qualifiers for Wednesday’s 64-player field to start match play, with the rounds of 32 and 16 set for Thursday. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played Friday, and the two finalists will play 36 holes Saturday for the championship.
Foust said the home-course advantage was a big plus, especially with the breezy conditions. The championship last was played at Emerald Valley in 2007.
“It’s pretty firm and the greens are fast,” he said. “It’s an advantage to know the course and not have to think as much over your shots.”
— PNGA Championships (@PNGALIVE) July 12, 2017
Foust entered the scorer’s tent in second place at mid-afternoon, one shot behind Reid Hatley of Hayden Lake, Idaho, who was working his way through the back nine. Hatley had moved ahead with a birdie on the par-4 12th hole and an eagle on the par-5 13th before trouble struck on the next hole, a 453-yard par-4 with a double dogleg.
“I just hit my approach shot from right of the fairway a little bit right, and it hit off that hardpan just short of the bunker and kicked into the water,” Hatley said. “I’m surprised we didn’t find it because it’s just weeds down there, so I ended up making double (bogey) there. It’s a long, hard hole.”
Hatley, who matched Foust’s 69 on the first day, then bogeyed the 15th hole to slip to 3-under and out of medalist contention but primed for the challenge of match play. Hatley was the PNGA’s Men’s Mid-Amateur player of the year for 2015 and 2016.
“I feel great, I’m putting great, I’m hitting it great,” Hatley said. “I hit three bogeys and a double in the past 36 holes, so I’m playing really solid golf and rolling it well. I’m not worried about it because I got the job done. I would have liked to medal, but it is what it is.”
Lee, who was two shots off the lead after his first-round 68, struggled with three bogeys in his first six holes on the front nine and finished at 3-over 73. A birdie on the last hole moved the Coquitlam, B.C. native into a share of second place.
Meanwhile, Yi made the most of the milder morning conditions to shoot a 4-under 68, a five-shot improvement even after a bogey on his second hole.
“After I rolled in the putt on the third hole for birdie, my round just kicked in,” said the Los Angeles native. “I made a couple par saves after that and then just kept making birdie putts. I just hit the ball in the fairway and then the green and either 1-putted or 2-putted.”
Though having just completed one season at Oregon, Yi is a veteran of match play, having contributed three wins in six pressure-packed battles as the Ducks won the 2016 NCAA championship and finished as national runners-up this spring.
“Match play is whoever’s hot that day is going to win the match,” Yi said, “and it could be the opposite the next day, so you just want to set yourself on a consistent pace. The best approach for match play is to make sure you don’t give your opponent the win. I’m just going to play my game and try to do the best that I can.”
The PNGA will crown a new amateur champion for the 17th consecutive year as no previous winners were entered in the 148-player field. Last year’s runner-up, Andrew Whalen of Ephrata, Wash., tied for 62nd but was eliminated during the playoff.
Ron Richmond is a freelance writer living in Eugene, Ore., where he formerly was a copy editor for The Register-Guard. A Baltimore native, he has worked in sports journalism for four decades.