By D’Wayn Hines, USGA Fellow
This week 156 junior amateurs compete in the 55th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. The majority have never competed in any other championship, never mind the U.S. Junior Amateur. Chris Wilson, 17, of Dublin Ohio, and Casey Wittenberg, 17, of Memphis, Tenn., are both playing in their fourth. After completing their first round of stroke play, the boys hold scores of 73 and 72, respectively.
In the championship, 18 holes of stroke play are scheduled for both Tuesday and Wednesday. But due to summer showers, severe lightning, and marble-size hail, officials were forced to enact two delays, forcing the stroke rounds to carry over to Thursday. One can only speculate about the effects it will have on the players’ mental state.
Even for Wittenberg, who’s seen this type of distraction before, the delays could be a factor in the final outcome. “It definitely affects your play,” he said. “It definitely takes you out of your rhythm. It’s something you just have to deal with.”
As the second delay approached 2 ½ hours, Wittenberg was able to offer advice for those players who may be becoming rattled.
“This championship is all about patience, especially on a golf course like this,” Wittenberg added. “At the U.S. Junior Amateur, the courses are so hard, the conditions are so tough where if they just calmed down a bit and realized that everybody is going to make mistakes, they’d play a lot better golf. I’m in there playing gin rummy right now. I try to relax, try not to think about it. Sometimes it’s easy to do sometimes it’s not. But try to stay focus on what you’re doing, but not wear yourself out.”
Wittenberg has practiced that advice as he won the 2002 AJGA Thunderbird Invitational, the 2001 Azalea Amateur and the 2000 Polo Junior Classic.
After the first day of the championship, only one participant, Jarred Texter of Millersville, Pa., had scored sub par for the round. Since then, Chris Gilliland of Chattanooga, Tenn. carded a 4-under-par 66 in the second round, followed by a 3-udner 67 from Zac Reynolds of Edmond, Okla. and a 1-under from Wittenberg himself. The average score after the first round was 76.57. When asked about his level of play, Wittenberg remained optimistic.
“I feel like I’m getting better and better everyday,” he said prior to his second round.
“It’s a continuous trend that I am hoping will continue. I struggled the first day and I struggled (Wednesday) morning and I practiced with my coach but I’m playing a little bit better golf this afternoon and hopefully it will just continue.”
Wittenberg is scheduled to compete in the Western Amateur this coming Monday, but the delay may require that he forfeit the opportunity. “If this keeps up, I’m not real sure if that’s going to happen.”