PINEHURST – If Alex Fitzpatrick continues to be unfriendly in his U.S. Amateur matches he might end up winning the tournament.
Fitzpatrick, one of three Wake Forest golfers to get into the match-play portion of the prestigious tournament being played at Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 4, rolled to a 5 & 4 win over James Sugrue of Ireland on Wednesday afternoon. He knows Sugrue well and said one of the things he tried to do was not be as talkative and instead focus at the task at hand.
That strategy worked to perfection as he advanced to the round of 32 and will play Jack Trent of Australia on Thursday morning. Trent beat Ryan Gerard of Raleigh 4 & 3 to advance.
“I played nicely today,” said Fitzpatrick, who is seeded 24th. “Pinehurst No. 2 is a course where it’s easy to make mistakes, but I grinded it out and hit some shots I liked but also hit some shots I didn’t like.”
Also advancing was Parker Gillam, a rising junior at Wake Forest. Losing in the first round was Cameron Young, a recent graduate of Wake Forest.
Fitzpatrick, a rising sophomore at Wake Forest, said there are so many challenges in playing No. 2 but it’s a little easier when it’s match play because there’s just one opponent. He wound up leading by three after just seven holes and was never threatened the rest of the way.
Sugrue made bogeys on 11 and 12 and after they halved the next two holes with pars Fitzpatrick closed out the match.
“I put a lot of pressure on him toward the end where he had to try and pull out driver to catch up,” Fitzpatrick said. “And if you don’t hit fairways it sort of punishes you around here."
One of the luxuries Fitzpatrick, 20, has is his older brother, Matthew, was the 2013 U.S. Amateur champion at Brookline, and Alex was his brother’s caddie. Alex loves playing match play and was a quarterfinalist in last year’s U.S. Amateur.
As for the best advice his older brother, who plays on the PGA Tour, it wasn’t that elaborate. “Be confident in yourself and your game,” Fitzpatrick said about what his brother has told him in past conversations. “I know if I can keep that mindset I have a good chance the rest of the week.”
Fitzpatrick received an exemption into the 312-player field for being in the top 50 in the World Amateur Rankings. This past season he was an All-America as a freshman for the Deacons putting together a very consistent season.
Last year in the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach he made his debut and got all the way to the quarterfinals.
He admits to being too friendly sometimes in matches, but says he will not be as engaging.
“I sometimes get into situations before where I play somebody I know I’m almost too friendly and maybe lack concentration so today I just concentrated a little more,” Fitzpatrick said.
Young, who graduated in May from Wake Forest and won five times in his career with the Deacons, lost in his first-round match. Young wound up losing to Jacob Solomon, a recent graduate of Auburn, by a 4 & 3 score. Solomon’s caddie is Ben Schlottman of Advance, who is also a graduate of Auburn and has turned professional.
Young, who was playing in his sixth U.S. Amateur, is hoping to make the U.S. Walker Cup team. He said earlier this year he will turn professional after the Walker Cup matches.
Gillam, a rising junior at Wake Forest, also got through to the match-play portion. Making his debut in the U.S. Amateur Gillam, who is from Cary, won 4 & 3 over Philip Barbaree, who was the sixth-seed. Gillam was the 59th seed and will now take on Brad Dalke, who beat Sandy Scott.
Gillam took the momentum of a tied match after nine holes but winning four straight to take control. He closed out the match on 15 with a par.
"I really didn't have a good start but I hit a 4-iron on No. 6 and went to about nine feet and that's when it clicked in for me," Gillam said. "I hit good shots on eight and nine and then on 10 I went on a key run so that was nice."
Gillam said he loves the atmosphere around the U.S. Amateur and hopes to carry the momentum into Thursday's second round. After his match on Wednesday he spent extra time on the practice putting green.
"I love it here and being an hour from home is nice and I had a lot of support so it was great," Gillam said.
Notes: The field of 312 golfers was cut to 64 for the match-play portion. Among those not making it into match play were Scott Harvey of Greensboro, who shot 72-78 to finish at 10 over and Kyle Sterbinsky, a rising senior at Wake Forest, shot 75-75 to finish at 9 over. The cut came at 6 over but there were 27 golfers who were tied at 5 over but there were only three spots available. The playoff took nearly four hours, but grabbing those final three spots were Van Holmgren, Chad Sewell and Austin Squires…. Jason Gore, who says he will occasionally play on the PGA Tour in the future, has a new job as a senior director of player relations with the USGA. He will help the USGA with communication with the players, which will come in handy for the U.S. Open. Gore, 45, is on site for the U.S. Amateur and loves being back at Pinehurst. In 2005 he contended for the U.S. Open and was given a catchy nickname of “The Prince of Pinehurst” until a final-round 84 popped his bubble. “I love coming here,” Gore said. “It’s such a pure golf place, so it’s been great coming back here and seeing No. 2.”… All of the golfers in the 312 player field got a unique gift, an American flag carved out of wood from trees that fell on Pinehurst No. 2 during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Thanks to the Heritage Flag Company the gifts were made for the U.S. Amateur. Bob Farren, the vice president of golf course maintenance at Pinehurst Resort, called the Heritage Flag Company to help remove the fallen pine trees after Hurricane Matthew and those same trees were used to carve out the gifts for the golfers. “We hope that it’s the best gift in the 119 year history of the amateur,” said Matt Furby, the director of business development for the Heritage Flag Company…. The USGA donated $100,000 to the First Tee program that will be dispersed around to 25 different chapters that are close to USGA championships. Among those in North Carolina receiving donations will be the First Tee of the Sandhills and the First Tee of the Triangle.