I was really excited to earn a birth into this major tournament, especially by setting a new competitive course record of 63 in the qualifier at Walking Stick in Pueblo, Colorado just two weeks prior. The U.S. Junior Amateur was my first ‘major’ national tournament and I was the only player from Colorado to earn a spot.
The week started rough when I broke my driver on Wednesday prior to the tournament. My parents scrambled to get a new one while I was playing in the Big I qualifier in Greeley, but the replacement wasn’t quiet set up to what I was used to. Needless to say I now have a backup driver.
Arriving at Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, Washington was fantastic. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend you visit this beautiful, yet challenging course. From the moment we arrived the USGA and volunteers really made me feel special. If this is how players are treated on the tour, I’m there! The overall experience, including dinner on the U.S.S. Stennis and the moving speech by Johnny Miller will remain with me for a lifetime. The players in my practice and tournament rounds are great guys. It’s a real treat to play with such a high caliber group of players.
Our group’s slow play really started at the beginning of the round when all three of us had our struggles. Even on our number 2 (we started on number 10 the first day) one of the players in our group lost his tee shot and had to run back to the tee to hit his third shot. On our number 9, another player lost his ball in the extremely deep rough just off the fairway, which took nearly all the allotted time to find, just to advance the ball a few feet back into the deep rough. I also had to play my provisional on our number 9. We were first notified of our slow play walking off our 9th green.
The delay got worse over the next few holes, especially on our number 12 when my first tee shot was found after nearly 4 minutes of looking. The ball was actually on the other golf course where we had to use a cart path to access. Both my caddie and I sprinted around the trees to identify the ball, then back to get my clubs and back again to play my ball. While I never took more than my allotted time to hit, that hole took a long time for me to complete. Knowing what I know now, I wish the people on the other course had not found my ball and I could have played my provisional from the fairway. The score would most likely be the same, but it would have taken much less time to play.
The hole-in-one came on my number 14th hole (number 5). It was a 158-yard down hill par 3 playing about 156 yards. I have to say that when I stood over my ball I had a strange feeling it was going in. With the calculation for altitude (I live and play at 6,000 feet above sea level so I had to decrease my distances for each club by 13%), I hit a pure 9-iron about 5 feet left of the hole and spun it back for my ace. Funny thing is that my parents who had watched every shot to that point were down over the hill on the number 6 fairway. They didn’t realize there was a par 3 at the top of the hill so they headed to what they thought was the next fairway. That’s why we don’t have the ace on video. When the ball went in the hole, I had to find them to tell them about the ace. We were all disappointed they missed my perfect shot.
When we finished our 14th, the USGA official told us that we were still behind and we had to make up time as a group and that at that point we were “liable” for a penalty. I have never been assessed a penalty in my 11 years of playing competitive golf, so I really wasn’t too worried about being able to make up the time, especially since I took the least possible time anyone could take on a hole (a hole-in-one). I have to say that at no time throughout our round do I recall us holding up play except for our second hole.
I birdied the next par 5, but admittedly had to take some time over a very difficult left to right eagle putt of about 30 feet with over 5 feet of break up an over a large mound. I was feeling pretty good after the birdie and had settled down from the day’s events.
We were reminded again on our number 16 that we were 8 minutes behind schedule and we all hustled to make up the time finishing the round 4 minutes off the expected time. When we arrived in the scorer’s tent, the USGA wanted to assess a 2 stoke penalty for us all, but instead chose to penalize me on the par three checkpoint. When they assessed the penalty against the hole-in-one, I was really disappointed that they couldn’t have assess the penalty against any other checkpoint, but the rules are the rules.
I talked with the USGA Managing Director of Rules and Competitions on Saturday after the tournament completed to learn that the USGA will not recognize the ace for the record books. I respect the decision and have accepted the fact that I recorded the first known hole-in-one “birdie” in USGA history.
The USGA and the volunteers put on a fantastic and memorable event. I want to congratulate all the players, especially Jordan who went on to win yet another Junior Amateur. What an accomplishment! Now that I’ve experienced it, I really appreciate how difficult it is to qualify, much less compete at this level. It’s truly a special event and I’m glad I represented Colorado in the tournament. I wish I had played better to at least get to match play, but that week just wasn’t my turn. I’m confident I will get another chance to play in a major tournament like the U.S. Amateur in the future.