NCGA Golf

Summer 2018

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P ebble Beach has long been synonymous with professional golf, from the Crosby Clambake to the PGA Championship to the First Tee Open and, of course, five U.S. Opens. But this summer the amateur game takes center stage, with the 70th U.S. Girls' Junior at Poppy Hills Golf Course (July 16–21) and the 118th U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach Golf Links (Aug. 13–19), the fifth time the tournament has been played at Pebble. Though there won't be household names in either field, the golf promises to be first-rate and the field will be packed with good stories, their heroics made more indelible because they will occur in the epicenter of American golf. To wit: one of the Amateur's key pro- tagonists will be Matt Parziale, 30, the reigning U.S. Mid-Am champ who is a second-generation firefighter from the scrappy town of Brockton, Mass. "For guys like me," Parziale says, "the Amateur is our Super Bowl. And to have it at Pebble Beach will make the experience even more incredible." When the United States Golf Association awards the U.S. Open to a particular venue, it often stages the U.S. Amateur there a year earlier. Such was the case with Pebble Beach in 1999–2000, and again this time around, with Pebble hosting the Open in 2019. It gives the USGA a dry-run on the logistics and a chance to see the course in tournament conditions to allow for tweaks ahead of the Open. But it's a mistake to think of the U.S. Amateur as merely a warm-up act. The Amateur has a long and glorious history: it was first held in 1895 and Bobby Jones remains the U.S. Amateur's greatest champion, having won it five times. The Amateur remains just as vital today. Amidst an increasingly cluttered golf calendar, it stands out for the uniqueness of the format, the purity of the com- petition and the variety of the storylines. That many of the winners go on to successful professional careers (Jack, Tiger, Arnie et al) is beside the point. "Winning the U.S. Amateur is one of the most pres- tigious things you can do in all of golf," says the 2015 champ Bryson DeChambeau, a native of Clovis and former Player of the Year on the Junior Tour of North- ern California. He is beginning to assert himself on the PGA Tour but DeChambeau says, "I love it when people mention the Amateur. Winning it was the thrill of a lifetime." The tournament begins with two rounds of stroke play, to cut the field down to 64 players. Then the Darwinian match play portion begins. U.S Amateur Wednesday, a dawn-to-dusk stress-fest featuring 32 matches, is, quite simply, one of the most exciting days in the sport. The field continues to be winnowed down day-by-day, culminating in the 36-hole finale. With no gallery ropes, the U.S. Amateur is an intensely intimate spectating experience. The Girls' Junior will similarly offer a chance to see first-hand a new generation of talent. That the home of the NCGA is making its USGA debut adds reso- nance; if the AJGA is the glitzy version of junior golf, stocked with country club kids, the U.S. Junior is often the first exposure to the big-time for young dreamers. "Growing up, my family didn't have money to send me to tournaments all over the country," says Christina Kim, a San Jose native. "So getting to play to in a Girls' Junior"—she was medalist in 2001—"was such a big deal. I was in awe. There is something so special about a USGA event. It has a different feeling, a different look. As a young girl you feel very privileged just to have that opportunity." Coming from a strong golf region certainly helps prepare NorCal players for the quality of the competi- tion, but Kim still felt something different in the air at the Girls' Junior. "There is a different level of intensity because a lot of the girls are trying to play their way into a college scholarship," she says. "You know every- one is watching and it's important to perform. You can feel more anxiety at that event than almost any other in golf." In this era of big-money sports, it's almost quaint to think about a young golfer worrying about covering her tuition. But at this summer's two marquee amateur events in the Del Monte Forest, the young protagonists will all be playing for something different: history, a tee time at the Masters (which goes to the U.S. Amateur finalists), Curtis Cup points, or maybe simpler pleas- ures. "I know a lot of guys who are determined to qual- ify just because they've never played Pebble," says Parziale. "Obviously we all want to win the Amateur. But no matter what happens, for some guys it's going to be the trip of a lifetime." Alan Shipnuck is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He lives in Carmel. 22 SUMMER 2018 | NCGA.ORG O N T H E B E A T The Summer of Amateur Golf BY ALAN SHIPNUCK

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