August 24, 2018
Just prior to the formal presentation, 18-year-old San Jose resident Thomas Hutchison took a good look at some of the engraved names on the trophy. The list includes the likes of amateur legends Lawson Little Jr. and Charlie Seaver as well as current or past PGA Tour members Kevin Sutherland, Arron Oberholser and Spencer Levin.
Hutchison’s name will soon be engraved as well. The UC Davis sophomore, who was seeded No.31, completed a marathon week Friday at par-72 Spyglass Hill, defeating No.32 Ned Jensen 3 and 1 to win the 115th annual NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship. It’s the first NCGA major win for Hutchison, whose lone previous NCGA victory came at the 2016 NCGA Junior.
It’s believed to be the first time in the championship’s long history that the No.31 seed faced the No.32 seed in the 36-hole final.
“Knowing my name is with those others who’ve won this, it’s exciting,” said Hutchison, who, like Jensen, had to first survive the first Wednesday morning stroke play qualifying playoff to even get into the brackets. “Hopefully, I’ll go on to have the same success as those guys before me.”
Things didn’t look too promising for Hutchison following the morning round. He’d trail 2-down to Jensen, a 25-year-old caddie at California Golf Club and San Francisco GC, at the break thanks in part to Jensen birdies on the 7th and 17th holes.
Things could’ve even been worse, but time after time Hutchison either was able to escape trouble, or Jensen was unable to capitalize. On the par-3 15th, Hutchison shanked his tee shot dead right into the woods. Somehow, he miraculously knocked his next shot to within 2 feet of the flagstick, saving par and forcing a halve.
“That was a pretty bad tee shot,” laughed Hutchison. “But I still got the halve. I just tried to keep giving myself as many opportunities as I could.”
In the afternoon portion, a revitalized Hutchison continued to make a charge. A Jensen bogey on the 19th (No.1) and a Hutchison birdie on the 20th hole quickly brought things back to all-square. Just a hole later on the par-3 21st (No.3), Hutchison made par to go 1-up.
The two would halve the next three holes before a big momentum shift occurred on the par-5 25th. There, Hutchison pulled his second shot left over the pond, while Jensen hit his second shot pin-high but off to the right side of the green. Hutchison would be forced to take a drop, and then chipped through the green, his ball stopping near the collar. Facing one of the most difficult chips on the course, Jensen’s third shot, meanwhile, went past the flagstick and nearly into the water hazard. Jensen chipped again, this time getting on the green, but Hutchison, who at one point appeared doomed, quickly ended the drama, making his difficult putt for a par and another win to go 2-up.
Once looking like it’d again be all-square, Hutchison’s lead was now 2-up.
“I thought I’d leave my chip in front of the green, but it went too far down towards the water,” Jensen said. “My goal all week was to not hold back. If I had that chip again, I’d try to do the same thing.”
Hutchison knew he’d caught a break, but he also came through by making his putt. “My goal on that hole became to just get a halve. I was surprised his chip took off that much,” Hutchison said. “I hit a great putt. It was a huge relief.”
The momentum would stay with Hutchison, as he’d birdie both the 8th and 9th holes to quickly pad his lead to 4-up.
The game Jensen, however, wasn’t done. On the par-5 29th hole (No.11), Jensen finally got a birdie putt to fall, cutting the deficit to 3-up. It marked his first birdie of the afternoon.
Just a hole later on the par-3 12th, Jensen made another birdie to make it just 2-up. But again, there’d be a big momentum changer.
On the par-4 13th (31st hole), Jensen made his third straight birdie, draining a tricky, curling 38-footer. Hutchison, however, who faced nearly the same putt–a few feet closer—also sank his long putt for birdie. Hutchison’s 2-up lead remained intact.
“He was gaining serious momentum at that point,” Hutchison said. “Right when he hit it, I thought, ‘Oh man, it’s tracking right at the cup.’ And then it dropped in. But I also got a good read from his putt. He basically gave me the line.”
On the ensuing par-5 14th, Hutchison re-upped his lead to three holes when he made birdie to Jensen’s par. Jensen again tried to rally, winning the 15th when Hutchison three-putted for bogey. Following a halve on the 16th, however, Jensen–going for the 17th green off the tee–knocked his tee shot slightly over the green. Facing another tough chip shot, he’d have to settle for a bogey while Hutchison, who’d layed up off the tee, made par for the win.
“I’m still really happy with my week,” Jensen said. “I’ve been working really hard to be able to play with these guys. Sometimes putts drop, and sometimes they don’t.”
Considering that he nearly didn’t get to match play, Hutchison was pleased as well.
“It’s a pretty exhausting week. It feels good to have got the job done,” Hutchison said.
August 23, 2018
Upon running into one another just prior to the quarterfinals, No. 32 seed Ned Jensen and No.31 seed Thomas Hutchison half-joked how awesome it would be if they met in the finals of the annual NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship.
In a testament to the power and unpredictability of match play, it’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Jensen, a 25-year-old caddie at Cal Club and San Francisco GC, and Hutchison, an 18-year-old sophomore at UC Davis, each completed their run through the brackets Thursday at par-72 Spyglass Hill.
Jensen moved on via a tight 1-up quarterfinals win over No.9 Ryan Grauman and an even slimmer 20th hole victory over No.20 Daniel Kim. Hutchison, meanwhile, waxed No.10 Austin Fox, 7 and 6, before dispatching 2015 runner-up Matt Cohn, 4 and 3.
A former player at Lynchburg College in Virginia, Jensen has never won a competitive tournament. He’s a day away from claiming what is considered the NCGA’s grand-daddy of them all.
“It was just a battle getting into match play, so this feels great,” said Jensen, who was runner-up at this year’s NCGA Public Links Championship. “It’s huge for me. I’ve come so close and have worked hard this year trying to improve.”
Against Grauman, Jensen trailed by three through just the first seven holes. He’d hang in tough,bringing the match back to all-square with wins on hole Nos. 8, 12 and 13. A hole later on the 14th, he took his first lead when Grauman made bogey. Jensen cooly closed things out on the 18th with a clutch par that came despite having to just punch out after missing the fairway with his drive.
In his afternoon semifinals versus Kim, he’d come back from a two-hole deficit through eight. A run of playing holes 9 through 14 at 2-under got things back to even. Later, on the 17th Jensen took a 1-up lead with a par, but Kim, a freshman to be at UC Davis, came back with a clutch birdie on the 18th to force extra holes.
After halving the 19th hole (par-4 10th), on the 20th hole Kim found the greenside bunker on the left and flew his third shot past the flagstick. After Kim missed his par putt, Jensen calmy putted in for his par.
“My putter wasn’t really on in the afternoon. I missed a lot of putts down the stretch. But it all worked out,” Jensen said.
Hutchison, who’ won a number of times in earning 2016 Junior Tour of Northern California Player of the Year honors, came out blazing right from the get-go in his victory over Fox. He’d go 5-under through the 12 holes of match despite a bogey on the 6th.
Against Cohn, it was a lot of the same. Hutchison opened the semis match with three straight birdies to take a quick 2-up lead. He’d go on another spree later–playing holes No.12-No.15 at 2-under—to put Cohn away.
“He’s a really, really good putter,” said Cohn, who fell to then-world No.1 amateur Maverick McNealy in the 2015 finals. “He made seven putts outside of 5 feet. You just tip your hat.”
Earlier in the week, things weren’t so easy for Hutchison. Having struggled through the first two rounds of stroke play qualifying, Hutchison gave his coach a call. Since then, he’s been in a groove.
“My irons were fine but I was wild with my driver,” Hutchison said. “I didn’t feel like myself and had no confidence. He just told me to shorten my backswing and keep things simple.”
Friday’s 36-hole final will begin at 7 a.m. In another rarity, should Jensen win, each NCGA title for 2018 (excluding Four-Ball) will have been won by a Mid-Amateur (player age 25-50).
August 22, 2018
The uncertainties of match play were on full display Wednesday at par-72 Spyglass Hill as both the Round of 32 and Round of 16 of this week’s annual NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship were held.
How much did the brackets get shaken up? All top four seeds—No.1 Blake Hathcoat, No.2 Josh McCarthy, No.3 Nick Moore and No. 4 Eddy Lai—all were sent home.
Hathcoat, who just a day before tied the NCGA record for lowest round shot by an individual at Spyglass Hill, was bounced in the Round of 32, falling 1-up to No.32 seed Ned Jensen. Jensen earned his spot in the brackets in a playoff in the morning. It was the first time in recent history that a playoff to determine the final seeds was stretched to the next day due to darkness.
Jensen, the runner-up at this year’s NCGA Public Links Championship, wasn’t done busting the brackets. In his afternoon Round of 16 match, he’d eliminate No.16 Robert Hamilton, 3 and 2.
McCarthy, who was coming off a Round of 32 run at last week’s U.S. Amateur, got upended by No.31 Thomas Hutchison, 2 and 1. In a duel between two former Junior Tour of Northern California Players of the Year, Hutchison, like Jensen a late playoff qualifier, grabbed a quick 3-up lead. McCarthy came back to close the deficit to one hole, but Hutchison, who plays at UC Davis, birdied the par-4 17th to close things out.
In his afternoon match against St. Mary’s Michael Slesinski, Hutchison again took a 3-up lead through 11 and held on from there.
The two other big upsets of the day came in the Round of 32. Moore, a winner at this year’s NCGA Stroke Play Championship, fell to No.14 seeded Kevin Huff, 5 and 4. A sophomore at Fresno State, Huff took advantage of a bad round from Moore, quickly building a 5-up through the first nine. Moore played the front-nine at 6-over.
Lai, who flirted with medalist honors and was runner-up in 2016 to winner Shintaro Ban, fell to Daniel Kim on the 19th hole when he made a bogey to Kim’s par (hole No. 10). Neither player held more than a 1-up lead throughout the match.
Tight wasn’t the way St. Mary’s freshman Ryan Grauman earned his ticket to the Round of 16. In his morning match, the No.9 seeded Grauman blitzed Ryan Waters, 8 and 7. In the afternoon, Grauman again was in form, as he’d earn a 3 and 1 victory over Sean Yu.
In another tight afternoon match, No. 5 Noah Woolsey, the highest seed left standing, defeated Ben Peters on the 19th hole.
Both No.10 Austin Fox and No. 22 Matt Cohn each advanced with identical 2 and 1 victories in both of the day’s rounds.
Cohn reached the finals in 2015, where he fell to then No.1 world ranked amateur Maverick McNealy.
Thursday’s quarterfinals action will see Jensen taking on Grauman, Kim facing Woolsey, Hutchison vs. Fox and Huff taking on Cohn.
Specators are welcome and admission is free.
August 21, 2018
For a while on Tuesday, the question of who was going to be the No.1 seed and medalist at this week’s annual NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship was up in the air.
Then, St. Mary’s junior Blake Hathcoat emphatically provided the answer.
Hathcoat, a Fresno native, left no doubts, posting a championship record-tying 7-under 65 on another calm day at par-72 Spyglass Hill to finish stroke play qualifying with a two-day score of 9-under 135. He’d beat the field by six shots.
The 65, which tied Maverick McNealy’s 2016 record mark, also ties the lowest score by an individual at Spyglass Hill in the NCGA’s long history of events at the Robert Trent Jones designed layout.
Coming off a solid first round 70, Hathcoat would birdie nine of his 18 holes, including five on the back-nine, where he posted a 31. The only things slowing him down from a 63 were bogeys on No.3 and No.8. The course record at Spyglass is 62, held by Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald.
Two others moving up the leaderboard were former Junior Tour of Northern California Player of the Year Josh McCarthy and 2015 NCGA Player of the Year Nick Moore.
McCarthy, who now plays at Pepperdine and is coming off a Round of 32 run at last week’s U.S. Amateur, carded a 69 to earn the No. 2 seed with a total of 3-under 141. Moore, who won this year’s NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship, also had a 69, finishing at 142 to earn the No.3 seed.
UCLA’s Eddy Lai, who was runner-up to Shintaro Ban in the 2016 championship and led the field after a first round 69, fell back to a 74. Lai will still be the No.4 seed.
The cutline for match play came at 7-over 151. Among those missing the cut were 2017 NCGA Player of the Year Jason Anthony (152) and 2016-2017 JTNC Player of the Year Ash Hakim (152).
Wednesday’s action will consist of both the Round of 32 and Round of 16. Spectators are welcome and admisson is free.
August 20, 2018
Just two years ago, then Bellarmine prep star Eddy Lai made a splash at the annual NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship by earning medalist honors.
Now a sophomore at UCLA, Lai could end up being the No.1 seed again. On Tuesday, the San Jose resident jumped to the top of the leaderboard in stroke play qualifying for this year’s championship after carding a solid 3-under 69 at par-72 Spyglass Hill Golf Course.
Lai, who watched last week as Bruins teammate Devon Bling made a run to the finals of the U.S. Amateur Championship, posted five birdies to go against just two bogeys. In 2016 he’d reach the NCGA Amateur Match Play final, only to be stopped by eventual champion and good friend Shintaro Ban.
Also getting off to great starts were Gonzaga freshman to be Grant Johnson and Blake Hathcoat of St. Mary’s College. Both Johnson and Hathcoat, a junior for the Gaels, posted 70 with four birdies and two bogeys and are tied for second.
Also getting into red figures was Yocha Dehe member Robert Hamilton (71). Hamilton, runner-up at the 2001 U.S. Amateur, is a reinstated amateur, having spent time as a professional, mostly competing on the Canadian Tour (now PGA Tour Canada Mackenzie Tour).
Five players are at 72, including St. Mary’s redshirt sophomore Michael Slesinski and Pepperdine junior Josh McCarthy. McCarthy, a former Player of the Year winner on the Junior Tour of Northern California, reached the Round of 32 at the U.S. Amateur.
Nick Moore of Monterey, winner of this year’s NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship, and Jerry Ledzinski of Carmel, winner of the recent NCGA Valley Amateur, are T-10 after opening rounds of 73.
Sean Yu, who plays at San Jose State, had the shot of the day, acing the par-3 15th en route to a first round 74.
Following Tuesday’s second round, a cut will be made with the low 32 moving on to match play. Wednesday’s schedule is the Round of 32 and Round of 16. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be held Thursday, with the 36-hole final set for Friday. Spectators are welcome and admission is free.
August 15, 2018
The oldest of the NCGA’s major events, the Amateur Match Play Championship, dates back to 1903 when it was first played at San Rafael GC.
The antique sterling silver trophy reveals a who’s who of historical Northern California amateur golfers including Pebble Beach course designer Douglas Grant, Charlie Seaver, Lawson Little Jr., as well as current and past PGA Tour players Kevin Sutherland, Arron Olberholser, Spencer Levin, Matt Bettencourt, Roger Maltbie and Ray Leach.
Varying formats have been used over the 106 years of competition but today the tournament is 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying, followed by a 32-person seeded match play bracket. The one-day final match is a 36-hole test of stamina and concentration after a week of golf at Spyglass Hill. The match play event has been played at Spyglass Hill every year since 1966, with the exception of 1996 when the course was closed due to renovations.
The largest winning margin was in 1930 when Herbert Schultz beat Hugh Ditzler by 11 & 10 at Castlewood GC, this was equaled in 2004 when Spencer Levin claimed the title. The longest final match was seen in 2007 when Ryan Hallisey triumphed on the 39th hole over Jeremy Gearhart, equaling the record set in 1947. Notable runner-up finishers include Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller, with Jack Neville having finished runner-up more than any other player, five times.
At the 2015 championship, Stanford junior and No.2 world-ranked amateur Maverick McNealy set a championship record for low round during stroke play qualifying with a 7-under 65. The 65 was a low for any NCGA event held at Spyglass Hill. The two-day, 36-hole scoring record for stroke play qualifying is 10-under 134, set by Finigan Tilly in 2017. Tilly’s stroke play total of 10-under 134 is the low 36-hole total for any NCGA event that’s been held at Spyglass Hill.
The event often determines the NCGA’s Player of the Year award with 700 points awarded to the winner. Multiple-time Player of the Year winners Casey Boyns and Randy Haag have both claimed the championship twice. Over 300 players attempt to qualify for the championship each year and the event is open to anyone with a handicap index of 5.4 or less.