18 Aug 2022 | Amateur golf |
McKinney, Hopewell win US Amateur Round of 64 thrillers
by Dane Heverin
Australians Connor McKinney and Hayden Hopewell are through to the Round of 32 at the US Amateur after a pair of stunning victories on Wednesday at The Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.
Reigning Australian Amateur champion McKinney burst out of blocks as he defeated this year's US Open low amateur Travis Vick 3&1, while Hopewell fought back from being two-down after 13 holes to triumph against Argentine Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira.
Royal Fremantle's Hopewell proved that he is a fierce match play competitor by going undefeated at the Australian Interstate Teams Matches at Sorrento in May and he once again showed his determination and grit.
A double bogey at the par-5 third handed the early advantage to Fernandez de Oliveira - who is ranked No. 22 on the World Amateur Golf Rankings - but Hopewell responded immediately with a birdie at the next hole to level things up.
Bouncing back was the theme of the West Australian's day as bogeys at the 512-yard par-4 ninth and 288-yard par-4 12th left him with a lot of work to do.
Hopewell's second birdie of the day - at the par-4 14th - got the momentum going his way and he followed it up with a par to take the contest back to all square.
The Argentine showed his class with a birdie at the 16th to capture the lead for a third time, but Hopewell came up clutch when it counted.
A par at the par-5 17th brought them level again before they traded pars at the 18th to extend the match.
Hopewell grabbed his chance and did not let go at the 19th however, draining a mid-range birdie putt to book a date with American Ford Clegg.
McKinney kicked off his heavyweight bout with a hat-trick of birdies to race to a 3-up lead and the advantage stayed his for the remainder of the contest.
The St Andrews Links Trophy winner fired home seven birdies - including two in a row at the 16th and 17th to end the match - to continue his stellar form.
"One of my goals in match play, which I haven't been amazing at, is getting up early. So to do today, it set the tone real good," McKinney said.
"The first hole I kind of hacked it out of the rough to probably 25, 30 feet and holed that. Doing that straight off the bat is good, and gave me a lot of confidence. Second hole was probably 15 feet, good iron shot there, and hit a good wedge shot into 3 and holed about a 10-footer. I got it going pretty early."
McKinney's focus now shifts towards his matchup with American Nathan Franks and he is not getting ahead of himself after his impressive display.
"The 64 guys, they're all good enough to qualify for the U.S. Amateur match play so anyone can beat anyone," he said. "Just sort of got to take what comes and just play my own game. It's sometimes easier said than done, but that's what I've got to do."
Although, McKinney believes he has a slight edge on his competitors courtesy of his experiences back home.
"Rough is not normally this deep (back home), but there's a few like it," he said. "You look at the Sand Belt in Melbourne, which I've been lucky enough to play a fair bit, and the greens are just rock solid, so it gives you a good bit of prep for this and sort of know what you're coming to."
At the start of the day, fellow Australian Karl Vilips was unable to progress from the playoff between 15 players for the final 11 match play places.
Vilips made bogey at the 149-yard par-3 15th after he chunked his tee shot, which travelled less than 100 yards into very thick rough and it took a few minutes to find his ball.
He played an excellent second shot onto the green but two-putted from 30 feet to end his tournament.
"It was a perfect 9-iron,” Vilips said. “Just tried to hit it left, make par and move on. I just got a little quick with my swing and felt all ground. Wasn’t great.”
Round of 32 tee times Thursday 18 August AEST - Round of 16 to be played on the same day
11pm Hayden Hopewell vs Ford Clegg
11.30pm Connor McKinney vs Nathan Franks
Join our newsletter
Get weekly updates on news, golf tips and access to partner promotions.