Riviera, Bel-Air Country Clubs Host U.S. Amateur

By Sue Pascoe
Editor

The 117th U.S. Amateur Golf Championship will be held at the Riviera and Bel-Air Country Clubs August 14-20.

“Bringing the USGA’s oldest championship to Southern California for the first time since 1976 at two of the nation’s most prominent [golf courses] is richly rewarding,” said Stuart Francis, USGA Championship Committee chairman. “The U.S. Amateur and its iconic Havemeyer Trophy, given to the champion, are held in the highest esteem by amateurs across the country and the world. Our entry numbers reflect that significance.”

A total of 7,149 amateurs, whose handicap index did not exceed 2.4, each paid $175 in order to try to qualify for the tournament. There is no age limit on who may enter.

The Riveria will host match play for the 117th U.S. Amateur Golf Championship. Photo courtesy of The Riviera Country Club

The Riveria will host match play for the 117th U.S. Amateur Golf Championship. Photo courtesy of The Riviera Country Club

Sixty-four players had exemptions into the tournament and the rest of the 312-player field will be filled through tournaments held at 100 sites across the U.S., in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico, through July 25.

The Amateur tournament is usually won by players in their late teens or early twenties who are working towards a career as a golf professional. Before World War II, more top-level golfers chose to remain amateur, and the average age of the U.S. Amateur champions was higher.

This might bode well for Pepperdine junior Sahith Theegala, who won the Genesis Open Collegiate Showcase at Riviera in February, shooting a 69, which allowed him to play in the tournament.

At the end of 36 holes, Theegala was tied for 40th at 2-under 140 with Phil Mickelson (who has won five major championships) and J.B. Holmes (a four-time PGA Tour winner). Theegala and Mickelson had identical opening rounds of 67-73.

Pepperdine junior Sahith Theegala, who was a quarterfinalist last year, earned an exemption to play in the Amateur Golf Championship this year. Photo: Bart Bartholomew

Pepperdine junior Sahith Theegala, who was a quarterfinalist last year, earned an exemption to play in the Amateur Golf Championship this year. Photo: Bart Bartholomew

Theegala finished the tournament by tying six other players for 49th, including Sergio Garcia and Sam Saunders.

Theegala was a quarterfinalist in the Amateur last year, which earned him an automatic entry this year.

El Cajon’s Joey Vrzich, an incoming freshman on the University of Nevada golf team, qualified for the Amateur for the first time by winning a qualifier in Genoa, Nevada on July 10.

Also earning exemptions were 2016 runner-up Brad Dalke, a senior at the University of Oklahoma; University of Texas senior Scottie Scheffler, who was the low amateur in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, tying for 27th place; University of Southern California players Sean Crocker, who was a semifinalist in 2015, and Jonah Texeira, who was a semifinalist in 2016; and UC Berkeley’s Collin Morikawa, who won the 2017 NCAA individual title.

In August, each golfer will play 18 holes on Monday and 18 holes on Tuesday, alternating at the two courses—both of which were designed by architect George Thomas. Riviera (which opened in 1927) is 7,272 yards long and Bel-Air (built in 1925) is 6,722 yards. Both are par 70.

The 64 golfers with the lowest score after 36 holes will advance to match play at Riviera on Wednesday. The round of 32 is Thursday, the quarterfinals are Friday and the semifinal matches take place Saturday, all 18-hole matches.

The championship, a 36-hole challenge, is decided on Sunday. Last year, Australia’s Curtis Luck, 20, defeated Brad Dalke, 6-4, by winning eight consecutive holes during the afternoon’s final 18.

This will be only the third time that Riv- iera has hosted a USGA championship. Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open in 1948 and Hale Irwin won the U.S. Senior Open in 1998. Bel-Air hosted the 1976 U.S. Amateur won by Bill Sander and the 2004 U.S. Senior Amateur won by Mark Bemowski.

This tournament’s history goes back to 1894, when there were two tournaments called the National Amateur Championship. One was played at the Newport Country Club and the other at New York’s St. Andrew’s Golf Club.

Not wanting two events, Charles Blair Macdonald of the Chicago Golf Club asked for the creation of a national governing body for golf and the United States Golf Association was formed. In 1895, it organized both the first U.S. Amateur Championship (won by Macdonald) and the first U.S. Open, both of which were played at Newport Country Club.

In the U.S. Amateur’s history, winners have included Arnold Palmer (1957), Jack Nicklaus (1959, 1961), Phil Mickelson (1990) and Tiger Woods (1994-96).

An Byeong-hun, 17, who was born in South Korea, was the youngest player to ever win the tournament in 2009. A Cal Berkeley star, he turned pro in 2011.

The winner of the event, in addition to receiving $750, which is the maximum amateurs can receive in prize money, is given an invitation to play in three of the four majors, except the PGA Championship. The runner-up also receives an invitation to play in the Masters and the U.S. Open. However, the golfers must maintain their amateur status at the time the events are held.

In 1981, a separate championship called the U.S. Mid-Amateur, was established for “career amateurs,” who have to be at least 25 years old. This gives the best players who never turn pro a chance to play against each other for a national title.

For ticket information, visit goldstar.com/events/pacific-palisades-ca/us-amateur- golf-championship-2017-tickets.

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