June 16, 2019
2018 U.S. Am Champ Hovland Claims Low Am Over Wu
There are few events in a person’s life that can top graduating from college, especially if your college is a top university like Stanford. If you are going to miss your college graduation ceremony to participate in another event, it had better be a pretty big deal.
Stanford Men’s Golf standout senior Brandon Wu found himself in that position on Sunday as he skipped his graduation ceremony for another event that is kind of a big deal for golfers–the final round of the United States Open at Pebble Beach.
After rounds of 71, 69, and 71, Wu, who went 3 and 0 in the Cardinal’s NCAA Championship victory last month, came into the final round of our national championship leading the race for low amateur honors at 2-under, pursued by OSU Cowboy Viktor Hovland, of Norway. Hovland, who won the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach last August, was at even par, two strokes behind Wu, going into the final round; Duke University junior Chandler Eaton was a further two strokes back, at +2.
Playing with 2016 U.S. Open Champion Dustin Johnson, Wu got off to a shaky start, opening with bogeys at holes 1 and 2. He missed a three-foot putt for par at #1 after a 11-1/2-foot downhill birdie putt tasted the edge of the cup and lipped out. After his approach shot at #2 landed in the rough left of the hole, his chip-out raced across the green to the far side; two putts from there and he was in with a bogey.
While his tee shots and approach work were solid, near-misses on birdie putts at Holes 4 and 5 yielded only pars for Wu. In the meantime, Hovland, playing six groups ahead of Wu, had birdies at the par-4 third hole, a pair of birdies at #5 and #6, then another at #8, pulling ahead in the amateur standings at 4-under, two strokes up on Wu.
Wu had a heart-stopping moment at hole #6, the long par-five on Arrowhead Point, when his drive went left, and left some more, bouncing twice or three times on the cart path before coming to rest in the trampled scrub left of the path. Playing an heroic iron shot to the runup area short and right of the green, he chipped close and tapped in for birdie.
After a pretty routine par on #7, Wu’s stellar approach shot work came into play again at #8. With 200+ yards to the hole, he lofted his second shot high and tight, landing it 5-1/2 feet below the hole, straight down the fall line, stroking it in for another welcome birdie.
Hovland gave back a stroke at #12, the long inland par-3, but recovered from that minor gaffe with another birdie three holes later, on 15. Backing up again with an untimely bogey at the famous hourglass-shaped par-three 17th green cut his lead over Wu to a stroke. Wu still had six holes to play catch-up.
Wu opened his back nine with a string of four pars, then a pair of late bogeys, at 14 and 15, effectively ended his run at the amateur title. On 17 he lagged a 50-foot putt from the front lobe of the green to two feet, rolling that in for par.
A conservative, 211-yard drive from the tee and a 218-yard second shot left Wu 86 yards from the flag on 18, but he overcooked his approach, flying the green, chipping back and two-putting for bogey.
Before Wu had finished his round, Hovland had closed with a birdie on 18, carding a 67 in the final round to post 69-73-71-67–280; the lowest 72-hole total ever posted by an amateur at Pebble Beach, not to mention breaking the U.S. Open amateur scoring record set by Jack Nicklaus at Cherry Hills in 1960.
Asked if he is looking forward to coming back to Pebble Beach in February for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Hovland responded, “I don’t know quite what my schedule is going to be looking like. But I can’t wait to come back here already.”
The disappointment of falling short of the Low Amateur title was eased somewhat for Wu when he was handed his Stanford diploma at the 18th green after finishing his round, celebrating two proud accomplishments at one of the most beautiful locations in golf.
Knowing in advance that the scheduling conflict was coming, Wu was sanguine about the prospect when interviewed after Saturday’s round, “We knew Sunday of the U.S. Open was going to be graduation. So it became more of a realization when I qualified in Ohio; if I make the cut, I’ll probably miss graduation. In previous years, Stanford kids playing, it’s almost always this Sunday, so it’s always kind of a conflict. This is a pretty cool experience, too. I wish I could graduate with my classmates, but I think they’ll understand and be cheering for me.”