BANDON — Many of the best golfers the world doesn’t yet necessarily know about yet are on the South Coast this week for the 120th U.S. Amateur Championship.
Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser has several times said he considers the U.S. Amateur to be golf’s fifth major, behind the four professional majors.
“It certainly was exciting for him to have this year,” said Jeff Simonds, the resort’s director of golf.
Normally, the U.S. Amateur would have a field of 312 golfers. It has been cut to 264 this week, all chosen through exemptions.
Because all the participants were chosen through exemptions — in a normal year some 7,000 would enter regional qualifying events to try to get in — it is arguably the strongest field ever for a U.S. Amateur, Simonds said.
The players come from 36 states and 33 countries and range in age from 16-year-old Luke Potter to 66-yer-old Dave Ryan.
The field features seven members of the 2019 U.S. Walker Cup team, including 2019 U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree and runner-up John Augenstein. Ogletree is trying to become the first repeat champion since Tiger Woods won three straight from 1994 to 1996.
There are 17 other golfers who have won USGA events coming to Bandon as well, including Scott Harvey, who teamed with Todd Mitchell to win the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes last summer. Mitchell had to pull out of the event, but 13 others from last year’s tournament are here, including Stuart Hagestad, who also played on the Walker Cup team and has played in 10 U.S. Amateurs, and Blake Taylor, who reached the championship match last year.
Though there are 36 states represented, Oregon isn’t one of them. Oregon State University is represented though, by Spencer Tibbets, who is from Washington and won the Oregon Amateur, as well tying for third in the Bandon Dunes Invitational college tournament held at the resort earlier this year and playing in last year’s U.S. Open (either others also were in that event).
Tibbets will be in the first group off the tee Monday morning at Bandon Trails, teeing off at 7 a.m. with Marco Steyn of South Africa and Carl Didrick Meen Fosaas of Norway, both also college golfers in the United States.
The champion of the Bandon Dunes Invitational also is in the tournament this week. Devon Bling of California won that tournament playing for UCLA and also was the runner-up in the 2018 U.S. Amateur, which allowed him to play in both the U.S. Open and the Masters in 2019. He made the cut in the Masters, finishing 55th.
Twins Parker and Pierceson Coody of Plano, Texas, both reached the round of 16 in last year’s U.S. Amateur and are grandsons of 1971 Masters champion Charles Coody.
They aren’t the only twins — 17-year-old David and Maxwell Ford of Peachtree Corners, Ga., also are here.
On the other end of the age spectrum, Doug Hanzel of Savannah, Ga., has played in 36 USGA events, including 12 U.S. Amateurs — at least one in five different decades. He won the 2013 U.S. Senior Amateur and has twice been low amateur in the U.S. Senior Open. Sean Knapp, 55, of Oakmont, Pa., has played in 50 USGA championships, including 15 U.S. Amateurs.
Another set of brothers is Trent and Trevor Phillips of Boiling Springs, S.C.
Half the field will be on Bandon Dunes on Monday and the other half on Bandon Trails. They will switch courses Tuesday and the top 64 from the two qualifying rounds will advance to the match play portion of the tournament, which runs through Sunday.
All the matches will be played on Bandon Dunes, where the golfers likely will be challenged by the typical summer winds out of the north that give the course plenty of teeth even though at 7,200 yards, it’s shorter than both Pinehurst (7,600) and Pebble Beach (7,500), which hosted the past two U.S. Amateurs.
“While the golf course is hard, it’s fair and doable,” Simonds said. “Even on a 25-mph wind day, we will still see some great scores and some high scores.”
The best scores likely will come from players who adjust to the strategies of links golf the resort favors, including the ability to keep the ball low and run it up to the green on holes into the win.
All are hoping to join a distinguished list of winners including Woods, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Oregon resident Jeff Quinney (who qualified for the event at Bandon Dunes and won it at famed Baltusrol in 2000) and, five or more decades ago, Jack Nicklaus twice and Arnold Palmer.
Simonds expects exceptional golf over the next several days,
“As much of a downer it is that qualifying was canceled, the strength of the field is incredible,” he said.