OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Alec Bard watched his big brother float toward the Virginia stand bag, a Steadicam only a few feet from his face.
He watched his brother empty his pockets – a ball, some coins, plenty of tees – and grab his phone. And his keys. And his wallet.
He watched his brother rub his eyes. And shake his head. And sigh with relief.
Finally, Alec couldn’t take any more.
“So,” he said, clearing his throat, tugging at the strings on his caddie bib, “am I on the bag for the Masters?”
That snapped Derek out of his daze.
“Of course,” he said with a smile. “Of course you are.”
A likely invitation to the Masters is just one of the many perks that are headed Derek Bard’s way after a 3-and-2 victory Saturday over Kenta Konishi sent him into the finals of the U.S. Amateur.
Bard, a junior at Virginia, will face NCAA champion Bryson DeChambeau in the scheduled 36-hole final Sunday at Olympia Fields.
“It doesn’t feel like real life,” Bard said.
His journey to the finals couldn’t be more different than his opponent's.
On Saturday, at least, there was no need for a furious rally. For the first time all week, Bard didn’t trail in his match, putting away Konishi with wins on Nos. 12, 14 and 15. He closed out the match a hole later, flagging a 3-iron from 225 yards.
“One of the best shots of my life,” he said.
DeChambeau, meanwhile, joked that he will prepare for the championship match by figuring out how to play Nos. 17 and 18. The only times he has seen the final two holes this week were from the back of a cart. His victories have been too decisive.
Including stroke play and the usual match-play concessions, DeChambeau is a whopping 18 under par on this U.S. Open layout. Bard is 4 over.
When asked if he has sent a message with his dominating play, DeChambeau said: “I would think so. I’ve been playing pretty well.”
Heck, even Bard, ranked 51st in the world, acknowledged that he will have to play his best to have even a chance during the marathon finale.
“I’m the underdog,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, it really is. I’m just going to have to have one of those days where everything falls the right way.”
No player of Bard’s caliber will ever admit that he’s surprised to be one of the last men standing in a field of 312. Still, there were few reasons to believe that this would be the week of his career breakthrough.
He has only one college victory, at the U.S. Collegiate last fall, but even that title was improbable. A week earlier, Bard recorded his worst finish as a Cavalier (48th) and had only three days to regroup. Then he shot 64 on the final day, overtook then-teammate Denny McCarthy (whom he may soon supplant on the U.S. Walker Cup team) and won by six.
Bard’s biggest amateur win came in June against a top-notch field at the Sunnehanna, but it didn’t prove to be a springboard. Prior to this week, he had poor finishes at the Porter Cup and Western Amateur.
And then there was his unfortunate history with USGA match-play events: Three tries, three exits in the Round of 32.
After he broke the curse this week, with a second-round victory over Georgia’s Sepp Straka, “Everything else was a bonus,” Bard said. “The monkey was off my back.”
Gaining confidence each day, he topped U.S. Walker Cupper Hunter Stewart in the Round of 16 and then flipped a 3-down deficit with eight holes to go against world No. 1 Jon Rahm.
“Long odds,” he said, but the turning point in the match – actually, the turning point in Bard’s week – came on the 11th hole, where he chipped a 9-iron to about 8 feet and made the putt. He won the next hole, Rahm missed a few shorties coming home, and Bard hung tough, a 1-up winner.
On the eve of his semifinal match, Bard swapped texts with Dr. Bob Rotella, a volunteer assistant coach at Virginia.
Rotella’s message was simple: “Be unflappable.”
The good doctor might need some different material Saturday night, because Bard won’t find a more composed opponent than DeChambeau, who has steamrolled through the match-play bracket with ruthless efficiency.
After a scare on Tuesday when the USGA assessed (and then rescinded) a two-shot penalty for being late to the tee, the SMU senior has been in complete control.
Following wins over NCAA player of the year Maverick McNealy and British Open star Paul Dunne, DeChambeau was matched up Saturday against USC sophomore Sean Crocker, a fiery competitor who has drawn the ire of TV commentators for his on-course etiquette.
Crocker unleashed a few fist pumps, but the electric moments were brief. DeChambeau silenced him with snug approach shots and timely putts, none more so than his 6-footer on 12 that boosted his lead back to 2 up. He eventually won, 4 and 3.
“He knew that he was behind and he needed to keep pressing and hitting good shots, because I wasn’t going to let down,” DeChambeau said. “Ultimately, it got to him.”
That’s been a familiar theme this week. One more to go.