Aug. 17, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
When opportunity knocked offering them a spot at the 115th U.S. Amateur Championship they not only answered the door, but kicked it in.
Whaley, a junior from McKinney, Texas, Petefish, a sophomore from Danville, Calif., and Waller, an incoming freshman from Griffin, Ga., all put on clutch performances in their respective qualifiers. Their taking advantage of that opportunity has provided them an even bigger one, in this week’s U.S. Amateur Championship, a 312-man tournament, which begins Monday morning and runs through next weekend at Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Ill.
“It’s a real good opportunity. I’m real excited,” said Petefish, who finished tied for third and won a playoff in a one-day, 36-hole qualifier on July 20, at the Bayonet Course in Seaside, Calif. “It’s my first U.S. Amateur, but I kind of know how these tournaments are. It’s a grind, but I’m just really excited to go out and play and see how I can do.”
“I feel really good about it. I think it’s going to be a great course for me,” said Whaley, who made it to Olympia Fields by finishing fourth in a July 14-15 qualifier at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course in Woodstock, Ga. “From what I heard it’s going to be playing really tough, the roughs are going to be really long, fast greens, I think it’s going to be a really challenging course.”
Waller, who will make his debut for the Jackets in the fall, qualified by tying for third at Horseshoe Bend Country Club in Roswell, Ga. on July 21-22.
The event begins with two days of stroke play, which will pare down the field to the top 64. From there, it’s six rounds of match play — one on Wednesday, two on Thursday, then quarterfinals on Friday, semifinals on Saturday, and a 36-hole championship round Sunday.
“It’s all about trying to make it to match play,” said Whaley. “If you can make it to match play anything can happen. That’s what my goal is.”
“I’ve just got to trust myself. It’s more of a mental battle at this point,” said Petefish. “You’ve got to know it’s a course and you’ve got to go out there and be sharp mentally because everyone out here has the game. It’s just kind of finding a way mentally to go out there and play two good rounds, and then you have match play, and anything can happen from there.”
Petefish will be the first Jacket to tee off, doing so at 8:40 a.m. CT, from hole No. 10 of the South Course (he’ll start his second round from North Course, hole 1 at 1:40 p.m.). Waller starts from hole No. 10 of the South Course at 12:10 p.m. (he’ll start his second round from North Course, hole 1 at 7:10 a.m.). with Whaley starting from hole No. 1 of the North Course at 12:30 p.m. (he’ll start his second round from South Course, hole 10 at 7:30 a.m.).
As might be expected, there is plenty at stake.
It starts, obviously, with the winner getting to keep the Havemeyer Trophy for a year and joining the likes of golf legends Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Jackets’ legend Matt Kuchar, who won the event in 1997, just to name a few.
A win also opens doors career-wise, as the winner gets an exemption from local and sectional qualifying for the 2016 U.S. Open, an exemption from qualifying for the next 10 U.S. Amateurs, an exemption from the qualifying for the 2016 British Open and, a likely invite to the 2016 Masters.
Despite so much at stake the Jackets plan on doing their best to make this “just another tournament.”
“We’re definitely going to play a lot of practice rounds together,” said Whaley, who further added to his comfort level by packing all his Georgia Tech gear. “I’ve been playing with Tye Waller quite a bit up at East Lake to get ready for this. I just saw ‘Pete’ for the first time [this summer], but we’re going to try to play a lot of practice rounds, and I’m sure we will be going out to a lot of dinners and stuff. It will to feel like a team event, so it will take a little edge off. It will be nice.”
“It will be good to have familiar faces, definitely,” said Petefish. “We’re looking to support each other and probably play some practice rounds together. But we’ll see each other, hang out, have dinner, stuff like that. It will be good to see some people you know, help support and kind of help understand the courses, getting advice. I know both of our coaches will be here so they can help us out, kind of figure out these courses and game plan.”
Whaley, Petefish and Waller come to Illinois playing some of their best golf of the summer.
Petefish has made the little improvements on the physical side and is improving on his mental game.
“I think I’ve found a couple of things in my swing that have been working for me the last month, and I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable, mentally,” said Petefish. “I’m more comfortable hitting the ball. I’m kind of trusting it more. Mentally it just feels better. I’m going out there more confidently to play.”
Whaley found and is riding a similar mental edge since doing something some golfers would find an absolute no-no — changing his putter mid-stream, the one he’d been using for five years — in his qualifier.
“It was just a different look, a different line scheme on it and it just looked a lot better to my eye, and I’ve been putting really well with it. I like it a lot,” he said. “I’ve been good all summer; I really just had one bad tournament, but I’m still working on pretty much the same things. A lot more focus is on the short game this week. I’ve been practicing a lot of chipping and putting, because I know that’s going to be crucial out there. You’re not going to hit every green with how long the rough is and how tough the course is, so you’re going to have to have a great short game to be able to compete this week. I think that’s one of the strongest parts of my game right now, so I’m really excited.”
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