Quest to Bring a USGA Men’s Individual Title Back to Northern California Renews at U.S. Amateur
August 16, 2015
The last Northern California native male to win a USGA individual title remains Ricky Barnes in 2002
Moments after chipping in from the back rough of the 35th hole to win the 2002 U.S. Amateur Championship, Stockton native Ricky Barnes embraced his caddie and brother Andy.
“Can you believe it?,” Barnes asked his brother.
“Yes, because I believe in you,” Andy replied. “We came here to win and you did it.”
At the age of 21, Barnes, then a senior at University of Arizona, was a national champion.
“I’m on top of the world right now,” Barnes told the media following his 2 and 1 win over Hunter Mahan. “The way I feel right now is unbelievable.”
Thirteen years later, Barnes’ victory remains the last time a male player from Northern California has been able to experience the thrill.
Since Barnes’ win at Oakland Hills Country Club, no male from Northern California has won a USGA event as an individual. Bryson DeChambeau, native of Clovis, has a USGA title, having helped the U.S. capture the World Amateur Team Championship in Japan this past September thanks in part to a tournament record 10-under 61, but that was a team event.
Considering the crop of great players that reside in the upper half of the Golden State, a place where basically one can play year-round, it’s easy to envision someone reaching the apex again. But it hasn’t happened.
Just how tough is it? Prior to Barnes’ triumph, the last Northern California individual to win a USGA title was Nathaniel Crosby, all the way back in 1981.
“It’s just so tough to win, and it’s even harder now,” Barnes said. “You’re competition now isn’t just from the United States. You’re going against Asia, Australia, New Zealand you name it. It’s now a world event.”
In between Crosby and Barnes’ victories, it was record six-time NCGA Player of the Year Randy Haag who looked like he’d break through. During the 1990’s, Haag, a five-time U.S. Mid-Amateur quarterfinalist, racked up the third most USGA match play victories behind Jerry Courville and a guy named Tiger Woods.
Despite continuously knocking on the champion’s door, Haag was never allowed entry.
Since Barnes’ 2002 win, there have been others who’ve also come close.
Knocking on the Door
Fairfield resident Jeff Wilson, who was medalist and went on to reach the semifinals in both the 2000 and 2001 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships, made it a trifecta when he was medalist and reached the quarterfinals at the 2004 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
Again though, he’d walk away just a few wins shy from being a national champion.
“First off, I think it’s difficult to qualify. There are so many players in few spots,” Wilson said. “Then when you get to the event you have to play very well to get to match play. gifatron.com To get to the late rounds, you’re going to have to win a match when you’re not your best and you’re probably going to need a break.”
Wilson knows too that even your best may not be good enough. At the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay, he’d earn medalist and No.1 seed honors. He’d get bounced in the first round by the No.64 seed.
“I played great the whole way through the match and lost,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of players now that are familiar with a high level of competition. You make a mistake at the wrong time, you lose.”
There’s also been four-time NCGA Player of the Year Casey Boyns. Boyns, the all-time leader in total NCGA wins (both NCGA Amateur Tour and Senior Amateur Tour combined) with 20, has also flirted with breaking through.
At the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur, Boyns reeled off consecutive match play wins en route to reaching the quarterfinals. It was there, however, that the longtime Pebble Beach caddie’s run ended.
In examining how hard it is to win a USGA event, Boyns is a prime example. Despite his resume, which has put him into the California Golf Hall of Fame and into the argument of whether he is the greatest California amateur player ever, Boyns’ match play wins at the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur were the first of his career.
In each of his prior USGA appearances, and there were many, Boyns reached match play only to be instantly bounced in the first round.
“Getting that match play win was like checking one off the bucket list,” Boyns said at the time.
Last year, 14 players hailing from Northern California were in the U.S. Amateur. Only DeChambeau made the cut into match play, and he’d get bumped out in the Round of 16.
Renewing the Quest
With the start of the U.S. Amateur on Monday, what has become akin to the quest for the Holy Grail will renew.
For the players, there are three chances—The U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Senior Amateur (Sept. 26-Oct. 1 at Hidden Creek GC) and the U.S. Mid-Amateur (Oct. 3-8 at John’s Island Club).
Two players who could get it done next week are NCAA champion Bryson DeChambeau and NCAA Player of the Year Maverick McNealy. Others to keep an eye on include Robby Salomon, California Amateur Championship winner Shotaro Ban and Jonathan De Los Reyes.
McNealy, who warmed up with a historic performance at lat week’s NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship, is looking forward to the challenge.
“I’d love to bring a title home to NorCal,” McNealy said. “I have to get some rest and re-focus. It starts all over again.”
Here’s hoping that someone finally brings the prize back to NorCal.
Northern California Players Set to Tee off in this year’s championship
Jonathan De Los Reyes Austin Bautista
Brett Viboch Noah Woolsey
Jake Yount Alex Franklin
Joshua Baskins Cody Blick
Austin Smotherman Robby Salomon
Roman Aragon Christopher Petefish
Bryan Baumgarten Bryson DeChambeau
Alex Lee Maverick McNealy