BROOKLINE, Mass. – This has the potential to get very awkward.
The week began with 312 players, and Brady Watt and Oliver Goss are among the final four at the U.S. Amateur.
They’re good mates, frequent combatants in Australian events.
And this week, they’re housemates, staying with the same host family in nearby Wellesley. Their bedrooms even share a wall.
On Friday night, they’ll attend a Red Sox game together. Prime seats, too – first or second row, down the third-base line. Maybe they’ll snack on peanuts and taunt A-Rod.
And then the next morning, they’ll pile into their Volvo station wagon and make the 25-minute drive here to The Country Club, where they’ll compete against each other with a trip to the U.S. Amateur finals – and a spot in the year’s first two majors – on the line.
All of this just might be too much for Brad James, the high-performance instructor of Golf Australia, to handle.
“I might just catch a flight and go home,” he joked.
The uber-talented Aussie duo is part of a decidedly international flair at this year’s U.S. Amateur, which for the first time in the event’s 113-year history does not have an American-born player among the semifinal participants. That historical factoid has prompted more than a few spectators to quip that this must be payback for the 1999 Ryder Cup staged here.
Anyway, Americans or not, there is no shortage of intriguing stories heading into the final two days of play.
We can start with semifinalist Corey Conners, who is a member of the six-man Canadian national team that has churned out several world-class players in recent years – guys like Nick Taylor (former world No. 1 amateur) and James Lepp (former NCAA champion) and Matt Hill (former NCAA Player of the Year) and PGA Tour players Graham DeLaet and David Hearn. Conners, a senior at Kent State, knocked off U.S. Walker Cupper Patrick Rodgers in the Round of 16, and then made quick work of co-medalist Neil Raymond in Friday's quarters, winning, 5 and 3.
No player thus far has impressed quite like 18-year-old Matt Fitzpatrick, the incoming Northwestern freshman who was the baby-faced low amateur at this year’s British Open. At just 5-foot-9 and 135 pounds, he sure doesn’t look like golf’s next big star … until he stripes his drive, hits a precise approach shot with a tight draw and cleans up with the remaining work with a tidy short game.
They’re nice stories, both of them, and surely they will have a spirited and well-played semifinal match.
But make no mistake, all the attention Saturday will be on Watt and Goss – Nos. 9 and 13, respectively, in the world rankings – who in the past 16 months have had three high-profile showdowns.
Last May, Goss not only nipped his mate in the stroke-play portion of the Western Australian Amateur, but then he rubbed it in with a 1-up victory in match play.
A few months later, they went head-to-head once again at the Western Australian Open, a professional event on the Australasian Tour. In that tournament, both players finished birdie-birdie to force a playoff, and then they ran off four consecutive birdies in the overtime session before Goss eventually won with a par on the fifth extra hole.
“I think coming down the stretch I’ve just been able to get that 1 up on him every single time,” Goss said. “It’s always really close.”
“I guess he owes me a couple,” Watt said, smiling.
Late last year, Goss made the cut at the European Tour’s Perth Invitational, finished third behind Tianlang Guan at the Asia Pacific Amateur, and also played the weekend at the Talisker Masters in Australia. The 19-year-old is entering his second year at the University of Tennessee.
Watt, 22, meanwhile, had no intentions of playing college golf and has only been in the States since June 28, teeing it up in the Sahalee Players, Players Amateur, Southern Am, Porter Cup, Western Am and, finally, the U.S. Amateur. He’s the higher-ranked player of the two Aussies, despite working a 4:30-9:30 p.m. shift as a professional cleaner at the BankWest Tower in Perth. He has cleaned office spaces and toilets five days a week for the past three years.
“It’s a casual-based job,” he said, “so I can kind of float in. I have a really good supervisor.”
Wonder if his boss knows what’s at stake here Saturday.
As Goss spoke to the media here after his quarterfinal victory, Watt sat in the back of the room, iPhone held horizontally, recording the news conference and chuckling at some of his friend’s answers. When it was over, they walked out of the curling building together, their next stop Fenway Park.
“It’s going to be a normal night,” Goss said. “We’re going to wish each other the best of luck and see who comes out on top. But we’re definitely going to come out and give it all we’ve got. We just want to beat each other at their best.”
If not, it could be a somber Saturday night at their host family’s house.