Mystery man of U.S. Am semifinals

By Ryan LavnerAugust 19, 2017, 3:09 am

LOS ANGELES – Three of the four U.S. Amateur semifinalists are standout college players and known commodities in the amateur golf community.

And then there’s Mark Lawrence Jr.

He’s No. 386 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He’s a dominant player in his home state of Virginia but a mystery to the rest of the country. This isn’t just his first U.S. Amateur appearance. It’s his first USGA appearance, period. He didn’t play the U.S. Junior. Or the now-defunct Public Links. Or the Four-Ball. Or the Open. Nothing.

Not even his fellow competitors knew anything about him.

“Before this tournament? No,” said his quarterfinal opponent, Dawson Armstrong.

But that all changed Friday, when Lawrence moved two steps away from the U.S. Amateur title with a 3-and-2 victory over Armstrong, one of the favorites entering the match-play portion at Riviera.

“He’s got a good golf game,” Armstrong said in the locker room afterward. “He’s in the semifinals for a reason.”

Lawrence, a rising junior at Virginia Tech, will face Doc Redman on Saturday, with a likely invitation to the 2018 Masters on the line.

“I’m maybe a little bit surprised,” Lawrence said, “but I’ve been really confident in my golf game. I thought if I could get myself in the right position, I could go pretty far.”

But this far?

Lawrence’s most significant victory to date was the Virginia State Amateur title, which he captured last month, 37 years after his father won. All of his other victories have been regional.


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“But he’s been a great player for a long, long time,” said Virginia Tech coach Jay Hardwick, “so it’s not a surprise to any of us in the state that have seen him play.”

For everyone else, though, this is the first time Lawrence has starred on a big stage.

He attempted to qualify for the U.S. Junior once, but he shot the third-lowest qualifying score in the country and was beat out for the lone spot. He didn’t tee it up in any U.S. Amateur qualifiers, either, because the event always conflicted with the first week of school.

“I haven’t played in a lot of big events,” he said. “It’s really expensive and you have to have a good rank to get in to begin with.”

Unlike many of his peers who travel the world playing in amateur events, Lawrence works full time in the summer at Kinloch Golf Club, about 10 minutes from his parents’ home in Richmond.

Valet attendant, range picker, shuttle driver – Lawrence does it all four days a week, in eight-hour shifts (from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

“He doesn’t really get the opportunity to travel much in the summer,” Hardwick said, “but that also makes him hungrier. It can be a catch-22, because if you don’t get to play a lot the pressure isn’t as easy to handle, but he’s always been strong when it comes to that. This plan works for him, and I admire him for that.”

Added Lawrence’s caddie and friend of 13 years, Chris Kapsak: “Mad respect for him. It’s a lot of money to do these types of tournaments, but he said he wanted to give it a try, and he took advantage of the one opportunity and did something like this.”

Lawrence began his college career at Auburn but transferred to Virginia Tech after one disappointing season to be closer to home. Working with assistant coach Brian Sharp, Lawrence overhauled his game, transitioning from a push-draw to a slight fade, a move that has produced more consistent, controlled shots.

Another change was his unique putting method, which combines a mid-length putter, an armbar, a ball position near his back foot and a claw grip. Yeah, there’s a lot going on.

“But it works for him,” Hardwick said. “Putting is the one thing that doesn’t have to be perfect looking. What’s perfect to me is when the ball goes in the hole.”

And it has all week.

Lawrence opened his U.S. Amateur with a 64 at Bel-Air. Even with a 3-over 73 in the second round of qualifying, he earned a high seed in match play.

Jumping out to quick leads each round, Lawrence knocked off 2015 U.S. Amateur runner-up Derek Bard, Tyler Strafaci and Shae Wools-Cobb. His opponent in the quarterfinals was Armstrong, the 2015 Western Amateur champion and one of the Walker Cup bubble boys.

But Lawrence caught a break when Armstrong came down with food poisoning Thursday and spent most of the night in the bathroom. Armstrong’s fever spiked in the afternoon, and he did well just to last until the 16th hole.

“Taking so many pills to stay physically stable, your touch and feel goes away,” Armstrong said afterward. “I tried to stay as mentally sharp as I could, but sooner or later, with those feelings happening, you’ve got to get lucky on a day like this, and I just didn’t have it today, sadly.”

And Lawrence played solidly after a shaky start, winning three holes in a row on the back nine to cruise to a convincing victory.

“With his distance, he’s able to hit softer shots when fuller shots are demanded for the shorter players,” Armstrong said. “He’s able to have more control of his game, and when his putter is rolling like it is this week, he can be pretty dangerous.”

Another stiff challenge awaits, against Redman, a sophomore at Clemson who two weeks ago reached the finals of the Western Amateur.

It’s another match in which Lawrence will be the underdog. Not that he’s paying attention.

“I was about 200 ranking spots behind the other seven guys in the quarterfinals,” he said, “but I still had the mindset that I could compete.

“The way golf is right now, everybody is really good. Everybody can win.”

And that includes No. 386.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.


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Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  


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Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.

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Playoff streaks in jeopardy for Garcia, Haas

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:12 pm

Since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, only 13 players have managed to make the playoffs each and every year. But two of the PGA Tour's stalwarts head into the regular-season finale with work to do in order to remain a part of that select fraternity.

Sergio Garcia has rarely had to sweat the top-125 bubble, but the Spaniard enters this week's Wyndham Championship 131st in the current standings. Left with even more work to do is former FedExCup winner Bill Haas, who starts the week in Greensboro 150th.

Garcia got off to a strong start in the spring, sandwiching a pair of top-10 finishes in WGC events around a fourth-place showing at the Valspar Championship. But quality results largely dried up after Garcia missed the cut at the Masters; he has made only two cuts in 10 Tour starts since April, including early exits in all four majors.


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Garcia has some history at Sedgefield Country Club, having won this event in 2012 to break a lengthy U.S. victory drought. He also finished fourth in 2009 but hasn't played the Donald Ross layout since a T-29 finish as the defending champ in 2013.

It's been a difficult year for Haas both on and off the course, as the veteran was involved as a passenger in a car accident on the eve of the Genesis Open that killed the driver. He returned to action three weeks later in Tampa, and he tied for seventh at the RBC Heritage in April. But that remains his lone top-10 finish of the season. Haas has missed 11 cuts including three in a row.

While the bubble will be a fluid target this week at Sedgefield, Garcia likely needs at least a top-20 finish to move into the top 125 while Haas will likely need to finish inside the top 5.

One of the 13 playoff streaks is assured of ending next week, as Luke Donald has missed most of the year with a back injury. Other players to qualify for every Tour postseason include Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore.