Copyright USGA/Michael Reaves
By Ryan Herrington
PINEHURST, N.C. — Austin Squires woke up at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday morning uncertain if his amateur golf career was already over. Thirteen hours later, he was the talk of the 119th U.S. Amateur Championship.
The in-between was a crazy odyssey that began by finding out the cutline for match play at Pinehurst Resort had moved from four over to five over when stroke-play resumed at 7:20 a.m. A few dozen players had to wrap up their 36 holes after a weather delay on Tuesday prevented everyone from finishing. With the new cutline, Squires was one of 27 golfers who would playoff for the last three match-play spots.
The 22-year-old, who finished up school at the University of Cincinnati in the spring, then survived a four-hole, three-hour, 46-minute playoff to get the 64th seed, an ordeal that included waiting for roughly an hour between holes as the huge group whittled its way down.
His reward? Facing medallist Brandon Wu, fresh off arguably the best summer of any amateur golfer in the world.
To his credit, Squires didn’t flinch, bolstered by the confidence that he regained from surviving the playoff. He never trailed in the match with Wu, taking the lead for good on the 10th hole at Pinehurst No. 2 and closing out the recent Stanford grad with a par on the 18th hole for a 2-up victory.
“It was a very long, stressful day,” Squires said. “It was kind of nice that I already played a couple holes before the match. Granted it was No. 4, which is a little different. but it was still nice. It was a little easier to get in a rhythm.”
It’s hard to call Squires’ win much of an upset. He did reach the quarterfinals at the U.S. Amateur last year at Pebble Beach.
“Obviously anything can happen in match play,” said Wu, who was only able to make one birdie during the match. “All 64 guys that made it to match play are incredible players.”
Had the cutline not moved, and Squires not found his way into the playoff, he said that this would have been the end of his amateur career. He is set to turn pro and play in a pre-qualifier for the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying School later this month. The reason he hadn’t turned pro yet was that he was exempt into the U.S. Amateur thanks to his quarterfinal berth last year.
“I knew I wanted to give this tournament another shot,” said Squires, who faces Stefano Mazzoli of Italy in the Round of 32 on Thursday morning. “I love amateur golf. I wish I could stay an amateur forever, but I want to make a career out of golf. There is not a lot of money in amateur golf.”
Wu was one of several top seeds who fell in the first round on Wednesday. Six of the 10 highest-ranked players in the match-play bracket fell on Wednesday.
Additionally, 2019 U.S. Walker Cup team member Stewart Hagestad lost to Maxwell Moldovan. Hagestad, at 28, was the oldest player to reach match play (and the lone mid-amateur to do it), but fell to the second-youngest player (17) remaining in the field.
A few big names as well as players with North Carolina ties did, however, win their matches and will be back on Thursday. They include Akshay Bhatia, the junior phenom from Wake Forest, N.C., and Alex Fitzpatrick, who plays at Wake Forest and is the younger brother of former U.S. Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick. Bhatia won his match over R.J. Manke, 3 and 2. While Fitzpatrick defeated reigning British Amateur champion James Sugrue, 5 and 4.