PINEHURST, N.C. – Only four players remain here at the 119th U.S. Amateur, and the best consolation prize in sports – a likely invitation to the 2020 Masters – awaits the winners of Saturday afternoon's semifinals.
Here are five things we learned Friday about the remaining players at Pinehurst:
1. It’s been quite the debut for Cohen Trolio
This year’s U.S. Amateur is the 17-year-old’s first national amateur tournament. Ever. He’s not even listed in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Even among the juniors he’s 119th in the AJGA rankings.
He’s the longest of long shots.
And yet that didn’t dim his confidence heading to Pinehurst. Far from it, in fact.
“I wanted to win the golf tournament – I didn’t think any less than that,” he said. “I knew that if I stuck to my plan, then I’m good enough to beat just about anybody here.”
But how did you know that you were good enough to beat these guys if you’ve never competed against them?
“I don’t practice just to beat juniors. I don’t practice just to beat amateurs. I practice to beat everybody,” he said. "That’s just my expectation. That’s the way I’ve thought forever. I just made it happen here.”
If you’re wondering why college players have made such a quick transition to the PGA Tour, it’s because they, like Trolio, adopted a fearless attitude when they were in junior golf.
2. Trolio has a highly unusual bag setup
Of the criticisms that are lobbed at today’s young players, here’s a familiar one: They’re too one-dimensional around the greens. They’ll reach for their highest-lofted club regardless of the lie, and then fly the ball nearly all the way to the cup.
Trolio is a rarity, however. He doesn’t even carry a lob wedge. His father/coach/caddie, V.J., won’t let him.
The reason? Former pros like Loren Roberts and Jim Gallagher Jr. have told the family: “If you have talent, you don’t need a 60-degree [wedge].”
And so Trolio’s wedge setup has evolved over time. He used a 52-degree gap wedge until he was 11. Then he was able to upgrade to a 54-degree wedge. That was his highest-lofted wedge until his 16th birthday, when his dad finally relented and added a sand wedge – but only after his son went 84-81-87 at an AJGA event and couldn’t get up-and-down from some impossible spots. Hey, if nothing else, Trolio learned not to short-side himself.
But here he is at the U.S. Amateur, without the aid of a 60-degree on all of Pinehurst No. 2’s ultra-tight lies.
Is he at a disadvantage?
“I can open up a 56 and flop it over your head,” he said. “I can go outside and show you.”
No, that’s unnecessary, but what about with a 54?
“You’d be surprised,” he said, with a devilish grin.
3. William Holcomb V is another pleasant surprise.
There’s nothing in Holcomb’s recent results to suggest that he was ready to shine on the big stage here, but that doesn’t mean he was ill-prepared. Searching for answers last month, he sent a swing video to his coach at Sam Houston State, Brandt Kieschnick – and it wasn’t well-received.
“What you’re doing with your swing,” Kieschnick told him, “is making me depressed.”
Eventually they got Holcomb’s swing under control – “I was trying to get my arms high and all over the place; I don’t know. I’m stupid,” he said – and the proof is his gritty performance this week at Pinehurst, where he knocked off highly prized recruit Karl Vilips of Australia in the quarterfinals.
There are so many new things for Holcomb to experience this week. Competing in front of crowds. (He gets flustered if his target – sometimes as small as the logo on a hat 200 yards away – moves slightly.) Killing time until his 3:15 p.m. ET match. (He hit balls for an hour early Friday, alone, just to free his mind.) Even hitting shots on TV.
His caddie’s advice for that one: “Smile, you’re on camera.”
4. Just hold the conference call now – John Augenstein is on the Walker Cup team (or at least he should be)
What else does the Vanderbilt senior need to prove? He beat Walker Cupper Akshay Bhatia. He beat Ricky Castillo, who probably will be a Walker Cupper come Sunday night. And on Friday he disposed of Palmer Jackson, who in the Round of 16 beat another future Walker Cupper in Isaiah Salinda.
Augenstein should be a lock now.
He has yet to trail in a match this week, and that’s been a point of emphasis.
Vanderbilt alum Brandt Snedeker relayed a statistic a few years ago that whoever leads after the first six holes of a match has more than a 65-percent chance of going on to win. Augenstein took that to heart. “I think when you make that little statement early on,” he said, “then your competitors normally feel like they’re behind the whole time.”
5. Andy Ogletree might now be the most complete player remaining
After a disappointing fall season last year for Georgia Tech, Ogletree received a text from head coach Bruce Heppler. The coach wanted to meet for lunch.
And so during a two-hour sitdown at Blaze Pizza, Heppler told Ogletree that he had Tour-level talent and hit it “as good as anybody in the world,” but he’d never be able to reach his goals without improving his putting.
So they got to work.
Ever since that meeting, Ogletree has done the same drills during practice, focusing on the fundamentals: eye line, speed, alignment.
Last spring, he ripped off six consecutive top-15 finishes to power the Yellow Jackets to another strong season. And he’s carried that momentum into the summer, winning the Monroe Amateur and reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur, where he’s now one win away from a Masters berth.
Yep, that was a productive meeting.