CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) – In a close, tense match between teammates and friends, Justin Thomas beat fellow University of Alabama player Bobby Wyatt on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur championship at Cherry Hills.
The 19-year-old Thomas won 1 up in the match-play contest against the top-seeded Wyatt, who equaled a tournament record in stroke-play qualifying by shooting 9-under 132.
Shaking hands and exchanging congratulations on the 18th green at the end of the match proved to be an emotional moment for them both.
“He told me, `Good match,”’ said Thomas, who lives across the hall from Wyatt at the Alabama campus. “I told him, `Good match. Sorry.’ It’s tough. In my situation, there’s nothing right to say. We’ve all been there.”
The 20-year-old Wyatt said the match was mostly absent their usual back-and-forth banter on the course.
“We’re both competitors and it was mostly business today,” Wyatt said. “I didn’t get the job done. I play him every day, though it was a little different in circumstances like this. But I’m really happy for him. He’s a great guy. I’d rather lose to no one (else).”
Wyatt was 2 up after six holes but Thomas won four of five to gain a two-hole advantage. Wyatt fought back to square the competition after winning holes 14 and 15. The match turned on the 545-yard, par-5 17th when Thomas was able to drive out of the tree-lined rough with a 9-iron to get within chipping distance of the green.
“I kind of had a rough lie and I wasn’t really sure I was going to come out,” Thomas said. “I just turned down a nine iron and just wanted to get it anywhere on the fairway. I felt like I could get a good look at it and it worked out well.”
He chipped his third shot within 15 feet and made the birdie putt, one stroke better than Wyatt to take the hole, and as it turned out, the match.
Even so, there was no outward celebration of his victory.
“Obviously, I wanted to win and Bobby wanted to win,” said Thomas, who won his morning match against Max Homa 3 and 1. “I didn’t realize how tough that would be until we were together on 18. But I think that says a lot about Alabama golf, and how close we are as a team. I am very excited, and I’m looking forward to the next match that I have.”
Thomas will face Australian Oliver Goss, a 2-and-1 winner over Bobby Leopold of Cranston, R.I.
Chris Williams of Moscow, Idaho, who is first in the world amateur rankings, also got in to the quarterfinals by defeating Edouard Espana of France 3 and 2. Williams will face Steven Fox of Hendersonville, Tenn., who advanced with a 2-up victory over Zack Munroe of Charlotte, N.C.
Cheng-Tsung Pan of Taiwan, who plays at the University of Washington, was a 2-up winner over Andrew Presley of Fort Worth, Texas. Pan will face Brandon Hagy of Westlake Village, Calif. Hagy, who attends the University of California, beat Patrick Newcomb of Benton, Ky., 3 and 2.
Richard Gouveia of Portugal defeated Devon Purser of Clearfield, Utah, 6 and 4, and will face Michael Weaver of Fresno, Calif., who won in 19 holes over Canadian Albin Choi.
Thomas Pieters of Belgium lost his second-round match to Choi 4 and 3 earlier Thursday despite acing the par-3 sixth hole at Cherry Hills. Pieters, a member of the golf team at the University of Illinois and the 2012 NCAA champion, used an 8-iron for the hole-in-one on the 177-yard hole.
It was the 17th hole-in-one at the U.S. Amateur, and the first since Johan de Beer on the third hole at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., two years ago during the preliminary qualifying rounds.