Riley Reaches Semifinals : Form Doesn’t Follow at Singing Hills
Improbability ruled the day as the 42nd U.S. Junior Amateur Championships was cut to four players for today’s final match-play rounds at Singing Hills Golf Course.
Only David Duval of Ponte Vedra, Fla., would have been expected to be among the semifinalists when the tournament got under way Wednesday. Duval, 17, is the veteran of the group, making his third tournament appearance in four years.
Duval will play Chris Riley of San Diego, who at 15 is trying to become the youngest player to win the title. The other semifinal features Alan Bratton of College Station, Tex., against Costa Mesa’s Austin Maki.
Bratton is playing in his first match-play tournament. But while the talk of the tournament has been Riley, who will be a sophomore at Madison High School, it is Maki who seems to be the most improbable semifinalist.
He had to play one-under over the final four holes of qualifying just to make the cut figure of 154 for 36 holes of medal play. With 10 golfers playing for the eight remaining spots in the 64-player match-play field, Maki birdied the first playoff hole to advance.
He quietly disposed of his opponents through the first three rounds but needed another great comeback in the quarterfinals.
Maki was two down with just three holes remaining, but Edward Davis of Suisun lipped out a putt on No. 16 and Maki made a 20-foot birdie putt on 17 to pull even. After both players parred the par-three 18th, Maki won on the 19th hole when Davis hit his tee shot next to a tree and had to punch the ball out onto the fairway.
“They weren’t expecting me to give them as much trouble as someone who shot a 146 in qualifying,” Maki said. “I never thought of losing. I figured I came back, and I had nothing to lose.”
Maki said he never doubted he could do well in the match-play portion of the tournament, if he could get that far.
“I think that’s part of the reason I played so badly (in qualifying),” Maki said. “I just tried to make the cut. I was swinging good and hitting good. I just got lazy.”
Bratton defeated Brian Gay, one of the four co-medalists, in a quarterfinal that was even until the 18th hole. Bratton put his tee shot 18 feet behind the pin and Gay was 20 feet away on the same line.
Bratton watched Gay miss his putt and then sank his for a birdie and a 1-up victory.
“I like (match play) because I see everything that matters to me instead of having play going on all around you,” Bratton said.
With Gay losing, Riley is the only one of the four medalists to advance to the semifinals.
He did not even make the cut at the Junior World Golf Championships a week ago, but has played inspired golf at Singing Hills.
He defeated Phillip Huff of Portola Valley, 5 and 4, in the morning round and then took a 3-up lead through 11 holes and hung on for a 2-up victory over Justin Leonard of Dallas in the quarterfinals.
“The Junior World really put me down,” said Riley. “I had to bounce back. It’s gone. That tournament’s gone.”
To cap a day of improbabilities, a small error of judgment nearly cost Duval his spot in the semis.
Duval appeared to have taken a 4-up lead over Ben Bangert of Odessa, Tex., after six holes but was then informed by officials on the seventh fairway that his caddie had stepped on the line between his ball and the pin on No. 6 and that he would have to forfeit the hole.
“I was 4 up, and suddenly it was down to 2 up,” he said.
Duval lost the next two holes and was even after nine. But he rallied to go three-up and closed out his match on the 16th hole.