SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Australian 16-year-old Karl Vilips and 15-year-old Kelly Chinn of Great Falls, Va., each fired the lowest scores of the day at 5-under-par 66 on Baltusrol’s Golf Club’s Upper Course after the first round of the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship in Springfield Monday.
Akshay Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., who the AJGA Polo Junior Classic at nearby Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield, NJ on June 29, came back to the Garden State posting a 4-under 66, eagling the final hole from 20 feet to do so, on the tougher Lower Course, which plays to a par 70 and is also being used for the stroke-play portion of the championship.
Vilips, who was dealing with back discomfort leading up to the championship and didn’t play a practice round on Saturday, carded six birdies during his round and Chinn, who was making his U.S. Junior Amateur debut, birdied the 16th and 17th holes and nearly rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt from just off the 18th green, which would have given him a course-record tying 65.
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“I was just coming in wanting to have fun. Obviously just being in the field is a really big deal,” said Chinn, who also had six birdies against just one bogey on Monday. “I just wanted to stay patient and take in the moment. That’s really what my expectation was, but shooting 66 today was above what I ever thought I could do.”
Also tying Bhatia with 4-under scores were Travis Vick, of Hunter Creek Village, Texas, and Ricky Castillo, of Yorba Linda, Calif., who both played the Upper Course. Vick, 18, made a double eagle on the par-5 eighth hole, holing a 3-iron from about 250 yards out. It was the first double eagle in the championship’s history and the ball immediately went to the USGA Museum in Far Hills to park of the game’s history.
Cameron Sisk, of El Cajon, Calif., shot 3-under 68 on the Upper Course, while Trent Phillips of Inman, S.C., shot 3-under 67 on the Lower Course to be amongst the leaders in the 156-golfer field, which will be cut down to the top 64 scores after Tuesday’s second round for match play competition, which begins Wednesday.
Big moment for Ludwig
Luke Ludwig, 17, of Effingham, Ill., posted his first hole-in-one Monday on Baltusrol’s Upper Course when he aced the 176-yard, par-3 15th hole with an 8-iron. It was the 15th known hole-in-one in U.S. Junior Amateur history. A hole-in-one has now been recorded in the championship in three straight years.
“I was in between clubs, so I hit a knockdown 8 iron. I hit it about two feet past the hole, it spun back and went in. My caddie said it might have hit the flag when it went past. I clipped it and it went back in. A lot of the kids that I play with have like two or three already. It was my first one and at the U.S. Junior, it’s a good place to get it.”
History for Vick Could Be a Promising Sign
Vick’s double eagle, the first in U.S. Junior Amateur history, was the 14th known double eagle in USGA championship history. Fun fact: the last two players to do it went on to win their respective championships. Dave Ryan aced the par-4 14th hole at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, Mo., during the Round of 16 in the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur. In the championship match of the 2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur, Sammy Schmitz holed his tee shot on the par-4 33rd hole at the John’s Island Club (West Course) in Vero Beach, Fla. This one happened much earlier in the week, but certainly gives Vick a reason to have good vibes.
Lower vs. Upper scoring
A quick glance at the course statistics, and it would look like both the Upper and Lower courses were playing about even, with the Upper Course averaging 74.628 through Round 1 and the Lower Course slightly below that, at 74.718. However, that’s slightly misleading, as Lower plays to a par of 70 and Upper is par 71. Of the 11 best scores in relation to par during Round 1, eight came on the Upper Course, with Akshay Bhatia (-4 66), Trent Phillips, (-3 67) and James Song (-2 68) being the lone exceptions.
Bhatia, Ludwig and Vick all had memorable eagles (in Vick’s case, a double eagle), but they had a fair bit of company on Monday. The field recorded a total of 10 eagles during Round 1, spread evenly across the Upper and Lower courses. All five eagles on the Lower Course came on the par-5 18th, which measured 556 yards, while the par-5 eighth hole of the Upper Course, measuring 540 yards, had three eagles (including Vick’s albatross), with one apiece on Nos. 15 and 17.
Mike Donald on the Bag
Brett Roberts has some notable connections. His cousin, Taylor Roberts, was a semifinalist in last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior and is playing this week at Poppy Hills, and on his bag is another accomplished player who nearly won a USGA championship: Mike Donald, who finished as the runner-up in the 1990 U.S. Open to Hale Irwin after a memorable 19-hole playoff at Medinah Country Club. Donald tied for 33rd in the 1993 U.S. Open on Baltusrol’s Lower Course, where Roberts shot 7-over 77 on Monday.
Travis Vick (-4 67, Upper Course), on his double eagle:
“I didn’t see it go in. I knew it was going to be close. I saw some people freak out on the green. It was one of those moments, it was awesome. This is my final year to play the U.S. Junior so being able to get my first albatross and to have my friends and dad there, it was pretty special.”
Cole Hammer (-1 69, Lower Course):
“It was a really solid round, two birdies and a bogey. You can’t ask for much more to start this week, especially on the Lower Course. I’m glad to play Lower first. I’m looking forward to getting out onto the Upper Course tomorrow and seeing how it plays. I feel like I can make a bunch of birdies, especially on the back nine of the Upper, it’s a little more gettable.”
Karl Vilips (-5 66, Upper Course) on his par saves early in the round:
“I never want to start off with a bogey. That was big momentum heading into the rest of the round because I birdied [his second hole]. Up and down like the ones on 1 and 3 keep your hopes up. You know that you don’t have to make an extra birdie to get where you want to be.”
Ricky Castillo (-4 67, Upper Course) on having his brother caddie for him:
“My brother and I have a really good relationship. We play golf practically every day together. He knows my game and I know his game. So it’s really perfect when he’s caddieing for me. He knows how far my distances go, how far every single club goes, what I like and what shots I like to play.”
Akshay Bhatia (-4 66, Lower Course):
“I talked to [2018 U.S. Senior Open champion] David Toms a couple of days ago, [PGA Tour player] Chesson Hadley and [former PGA Tour player] Chris Wilson. Chesson and Chris practice at the same course as me. I’m definitely thankful to look up to them and to have them as mentors. David was our captain for the Junior Presidents Cup. He said some really good stuff. I’m really looking forward to this week.”