Medalist Spieth To Square Off Against Hwang In Final
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Bedminster, N.J. – All Jay Hwang and Jordan Spieth know about each other is that they both swing a golf club and that they’re both in the U.S. Junior Amateur field this week. Besides that, they haven’t got a clue about the other.
They’ll learn more because they’ll be squaring off in Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole final at Trump National Golf Club.
By making the final, Spieth, 15, of Dallas, Texas, realized a goal he set for himself after falling in last year’s semifinal round. He hung on to rub out good friend, Logan Harrell, 16, of Huntersville, N.C., 1 up. In the other semifinal match on the 7,159-yard, par-72 New Course, 16-year-old Jay Hwang of San Diego, Calif., defeated Nicholas Reach, 17, of Moscow, Pa., 3 and 2.
Spieth is attempting to become the first medalist to win since Matthew Rosenfeld in 2000 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. If he can get by Hwang, it will be the eighth time the medalist has been victorious. Incidentally, in the U.S. Girls’ Junior – also being held on the New Course – medalist Amy Anderson reached the final. It’s the first time since 1991 (Emilee Klein and Tiger Woods) that medalists in both junior amateurs advanced to their respective finals.
For Spieth, the semifinal loss in last year’s Junior Amateur at Shoal Creek had been on his mind. He approached each match with a carefulness that belied his age. Instead of firing at flagsticks, like last year, he tried to play conservatively. He said his experience from 2008 taught him to try and get up early in his matches.
“He does not make very many mistakes,” said Harrell, who fell 4 down after the first six holes but finished the equivalent of one over par, with the normal match-play concessions.
The two walked down the first fairway together smiling and joking. It would be the only time they’d stroll side by side.
On Nos. 9-11, Harrell erased Spieth’s 3-up margin with birdies, one of which was a 33-footer on the par-3 10th that had Harrell wildly pumping his fist and yelling, “Get in baby! Let’s go!”
Anyone would be hard-pressed to blame Spieth for his lead evaporating.
“That wasn’t my fault,” said Spieth. “He was playing his heart out.
“I was angry. I’m not going to cheer for him. He’s dropping fist pumps and he should.”
Spieth told himself to stay calm as he walked to the 12th tee. It may have helped him regain the lead when Harrell couldn’t get up and down. Spieth’s father, Shawn, said the difference between last year and this year has been the maturation process his son has undergone on the course. “His personality hasn’t changed a bit,” said Shawn. “Emotionally it was easy to chase the guys and be under the radar [last year] . He was carefree. Now he’s more careful.”
With both on their way to striking more than half of their fairways and greens in regulation, the match was destined to go the full 18. Perhaps the signature moment came on No. 15 when Harrell pushed a 12-footer left of the hole. Spieth hovered over his 8-foot birdie attempt and buried it to go 1 up.
“If that didn’t go in, I don’t know what I would have done,” said Spieth. “When he missed, I told myself, ‘You’ve got to close it.’ … From 15 on, I was pretty much nervous over every shot.”
Harrell forced an 18th hole when Spieth failed to get up and down from the back greenside rough.
On No. 18, Harrell caught an unfortunate break when his ball, 10 feet from the hole on the back collar, had a loose impediment in front of it that influenced the putt.
“I hit the putt the way I wanted, but it didn’t go in,” said Harrell. “It was tough. But I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Spieth closed it out after funneling his ball to the lip for a tap-in. The two embraced with Harrell telling him to win Saturday.
In the second match, Hwang pulled away after the 11th hole. Raised in Chinese Taipei until moving back to the U.S. last year, Hwang rattled off victories on the next three holes.
“He doesn’t make any mistakes,” said Reach.
On the par-4 13th, Hwang stuck his second shot to within 10 feet of the hole before dumping in his birdie putt.
Hwang’s caddie, John Mason, who is also his coach at Encinitas Ranch near San Diego, advised him on No. 14 to play toward the safe side on the island green. The hole was located near the left edge of the green, just a few paces from the water hazard.
But when the shot came off the club, it was headed directly toward the flag, and curiously ended up about 25 feet behind the hole. As Hwang walked back over to Mason to hand him the club, he just smiled and said, “I had to go for it again, coach.”
He made the right decision, too, nailing the putt and giving the result a Tiger Woods-like fist pump to go 3 up.
“With him, you have to stay on top of your game the entire round,” said Reach. “I hung on until 16.”
For Hwang, he canceled another junior event this week to be here. He was blissful, sitting in a golf cart well after the match with a grin on his face.
When asked if he thought he would make the final, he said, “My coach did, except he said that before I came here.
“I figure I have a chance. Keep hitting good shots. Make good putts. No matter if you are 2 down or 3 up, you have to be calm.”
Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole final will begin at 8:15 a.m. EDT. Both finalists are exempt into this year’s U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s editor of New Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.