Match play kicks off at U.S. Amateur

BROOKLINE, Mass. -- At Merion in June, Michael Kim was the low amateur in the U.S. Open with a tie for 17th. At Cal this past season, the 20-year old sophomore won four events on a team that had victories in 12 of 14 stroke play events.

Last month, Kim was selected to the U.S. Walker Cup team along with his Golden Bear teammate, Max Homa, Stanford's Patrick Rodgers and Alabama's Justin Thomas and Cory Whitsett.

Coming into this week at the 113th U.S. Amateur -- which began on Monday with medal play at the Charles River Country Club and The Country Club at Brookline -- these five players were the leading favorites to race through the brackets.

But only Rodgers, a 21-year-old junior, survived the cut to make the match play portion of the event, which started Wednesday morning at The Country Club.

In his first-round match, Rodgers defeated Sean Dale, 3 and 2. He now faces Greg Eason in the Round of 32.

Eason upset Michael Weaver, the 2012 runner-up at Cherry Hills, 3 and 2.

For Rodgers, it's already been an adventurous week. On Monday, in the medal play portion of the competition, his group was given a 1-shot penalty for slow play. On Tuesday, he had a ball get stuck in a tree, and after tripling his third to last hole, he needed a 30-footer on the final hole to get into a playoff to reach match play. Then on Wednesday, he started his day at 5:30 a.m. to survive that playoff for 15 match play spots.

In the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay, Rodgers -- a 21-year-older Avon, Ind., native -- advanced to the Round of 32 before getting beat 3 and 1 by Alex Ching.

"Match play is a different animal," Rodgers said. "Once you get through to the match play you're going to have to play a great player. If you're going to win this championship, you're going to have to face adversity."

The U.S. Amateur is golf's biggest amateur event. Now mostly the domain of young players headed to uncertain pro careers, the Havemeyer Trophy gets a player an invitation to the next year's Masters, the Open Championship and the U.S. Open.

But that's just the official stuff. The reigning amateur winner also gets invites to a number of PGA Tour events. And past Amateur champions are invited back annually for the Masters par-3 contest. In the world of golf, an Amateur champion is royalty for life.

Steven Fox, the 2012 U.S. Amateur champion, who didn't advance into the match play at The Country Club, missed the cut badly in all of his major appearances in 2013 but had the time of his life. Playing in three majors is the ultimate bucket list trip.

Rodgers has designs on having a similar experience in 2014. But making the U.S. Walker Cup team is one chore that he doesn't have to worry about.

However, for those other U.S. players, the Amateur is about getting noticed. The championship gives them a chance to show why they should be a part of the Walker Cup team that will try to win the trophy back from Great Britain and Ireland at the National Golf Links on Long Island, N.Y., in September.

Many of those players have been playing all summer in prestigious amateur events like the Sunnehanna, the Northeast Amateur, the Western Amateur and the Porter Cup to build their résumé for Walker Cup consideration.

"It's a secretive process," said Rodgers, who was also on the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team. "You never know where you stand."

The USGA will name five players following the Amateur to complete on the 10-man team.

With a tough win on Wednesday in 19 holes over Portugal's Ricardo Gouveia, Brandon Hagy made a case for why he should join his Cal teammates on the U.S. squad.

"It was really a mental test out there with the wind," Hagy said, "I'm really happy to get through."

Last year at Cherry Hills, Hagy, who will be a fifth-year senior in the fall, lost 2-down to Fox, who beat another Cal player, Weaver, in 37 holes in the 2012 final.

"Making the Walker Cup is definitely in the back of my mind," said Hagy who is playing his seventh tournament of the summer. "Your finishes in tournaments you do have control over, but at the end of the day, the decision isn't yours. So you have to keep doing what you have to do.

"This was a huge match, and it shows how gritty I am in match play."

When Fox won last year at Cherry Hills, he was the lowest seed -- at 63rd -- to win the tournament since the USGA started the seeding process in 1985. Rodgers is the 56th seed, but that hardly matters. In July, Rodgers briefly held the lead in the third round of the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, where he eventually settled for a tie for 15th, with four rounds in the 60s.

He should be hard to beat at The Country Club. But, then again, all these players are tough to beat in match play.