Moving Day Becomes Movie Night at the U.S. Amateur

Nine players remain as darkness quickly descends.

by Jon Rizzi

Spectators wait for Thursday’s final group behind the 18th green at Cherry Hills Country Club during the round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur. (Photo by Jon Rizzi)

The scene Thursday night at the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club crackled with the atmosphere of a movie set. As the last suggestions of sunlight drained from the evening sky, floodlights beamed from the clubhouse and a nearby scissor-lift, illuminating the 18th green and all who stood on it and around it.

There were the two leading men—U.S. Amateur competitors John Marshall Butler and Paul Chang (a college walk-on with a Rudy-like story)—who had teed off 10 minutes earlier tied in their match and now needed to make short putts to keep it that way. With a spot at stake in the quarterfinal of the oldest national tournament in the U.S., Chang and Butler consulted with their caddies while a vest-wearing USGA official advised the spectators ringing the stage to keep their shadows to themselves.

The clubhouse is seen well past sunset as play continues on hole 18 during the round of 16 of the 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills C.C. in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)

The crowd erupted as each player sank his par putt to send the epic match into overtime.

Golf Channel’s telecast could well have signed off in true cliffhanger fashion: “To Be Continued.”

And continued it will be, sans the kliegs or televised coverage, Friday at 8:00 a.m. MDT.

The spotlit tableau, reminiscent of “The Battle at Bighorn” concluded a day that began with the Round of 32.


Shadows cast over the 18th green at Cherry Hills Country Club during the final match of the round of 16 at the 2023 U.S. Amateur. (Photo by Jon Rizzi)

From 32 to 16

When play commenced Thursday morning with the Round of 32, all three co-medalists were still competing and Colorado had one representative in the field. By the beginning of the afternoon’s Round of 16, none remained.

Medalists Blades Brown, Jackson Buchanan and Sampson Zheng all lost their matches, thus extending to 19 years the streak of Amateurs in which a medalist has failed to take home the Havemeyer trophy.

Brown, the 16-year-old phenom from Nashville, lost 4 and 3 to Auburn freshman Jackson Koivun. “You win or you learn,” Brown said. “I don’t like the word ‘loss.’” I’m going to learn from this, and hopefully next year I’ll be able to come back.”

Buchanan, from the University of Illinois, also “learned” 4 and 3 to incoming BYU freshman Cooper Jones. In a nip-and-tuck match, Zheng fell 2 and 1 to México’s José Islas. “Obviously if you’re medalist, you know you’re playing well on the course,” Zheng said. “There’s a certain expectation, like from you and everybody else around you, to perform and play well. There’s a little bit of pressure.”

Connor Jones hits his tee shot on hole 15 during the round of 32 of the 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills C.C. in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (Chris Keane/USGA)

If Connor Jones felt any pressure, he didn’t show it. After a decisive victory in Wednesday’s opening Round of 64 at Cherry Hills Country Club, the Colorado State University senior faced off in the Round of 32 against the University of Alabama’s Nick Dunlap, who was coming off a bruising first-round triumph over the number-one player in the world, Gordon Sargent of Vanderbilt University.

Dunlap, however, showed no signs of fatigue after defeating his Walker Cup teammate. The 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur champion came out firing against Jones, winning the first four holes with birdies. Still down by four at the turn, Jones took holes 10, 11 and 13 to pull within one. Showing why he’s the 9th-ranked player in the world, Dunlap responded by winning the next three holes—and the match, 4 and 2.

In addition to Cooper Jones, Dunlap, Islas and Koivun, the players advancing to the round of 16 included Carson Bacha, Parker Bell, John Marshall Butler, Paul Chang, twins Maxwell and David Ford, Connor Gaunt, Ben James, Bowen Mauss, Neal Shipley, Matthew Sutherland and Andi Xu.

Playing in the last match in the Round of 32, the unranked Chang battled for 22 holes before defeating Caleb Surratt, the No. 7 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. The length of that match pushed back the start of the Chang-Butler match an hour.

From 16 to 8 (or 9)

The wind picked up and so did the competition in the afternoon matches.

In the first match, incoming Auburn freshman Jackson Koivun came back from 1-down to tie Fresno State senior Matthew Sutherland on the 18th hole and send them both to the first tee for extras. Although Sutherland had earlier birdied the 401-yard par 4 hole, he got stuck in the rough, and Koivun won the match with a par.

In Friday’s quarterfinal round, he’ll face Dunlap in an Alabama-Auburn showdown. Dunham continued his dominant play in the Round of 16 with a 5 and 3 victory over 16-year-old Utahan Bowen Mauss. An equally domineering performance was turned in by Parker Bell, who took out one of the twins from Georgia, Maxwell Ford, 5 and 4.

Bell, a University of Florida sophomore, will square off against Ben James in the quarterfinals. The winner of the 2023 NCAA Division I Phil Mickelson Outstanding Freshman Award, James eliminated the other Ford twin, David, in an epic battle that James forced into extra holes with a clutch par on the 18th and then won by sinking a four-foot “knee-knocker” on the 401-yard first hole.

In their respective matches versus Connor Gaunt and Cooper Jones, both Andi Xu and Neal Shipley almost squandered leads on the back nine but bore down and won on the 16th hole.

Islas, the lone remaining Mexico representative, will be facing the winner of the Butler-Chang show.

That show featured Chang hitting the top of the flagstick on the par-3 15th and then getting some golf karma on the par-4 16th when his approach bounced high off the front of the green and dove straight into the hole for an eagle-2.

Down one, Butler got even on the par-5 17th when his third shot cozied to a foot from the hole for a conceded birdie. After his tee shot on 18 rolled into the water, he hit his third to about six feet and strode up the hill and into the spotlight.

AMATEUR POWER: Bryson DeChambeau, the 2015 U.S. Amateur champion and 2020 U.S. Open champion, was on hand to watch the Round of 16, and he also took on the Arnold Palmer challenge. Palmer famously drove the green on the par-4 first hole at Cherry Hills on the way to victory in the 1960 U.S. Open, and DeChambeau, using a persimmon-headed wood, hit a number of balls to areas around the putting surface, along with one landed on the edge of the putting surface.

2015 U.S. Amateur and 2020 U.S. Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau shakes hands with fans attending the round of 16 of the 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills C.C. in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. To the right in the blue shirt is former Cherry Hills Head PGA Professional Clayton Cole and, far right, Cherry Hills General Manager Lance Sabella. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)

To follow today’s matches at Cherry Hills, click here.

To catch the action on television:

Date/Day Time (MDT) Network Coverage
Aug. 17/Thursday 4-5 p.m. Peacock Round of 32 Matches
5-7 p.m. Golf Channel Round of 32 Matches
Aug. 18/Friday 3-4 p.m. Peacock Quarterfinal Matches
4-6 p.m. Golf Channel Quarterfinal Matches
Aug. 19/Saturday 1-3 p.m. Golf Channel Semifinals Matches
2-4 p.m. NBC Semifinals Matches
Aug. 20/Sunday 1-2 p.m. Golf Channel Championship Match
2-4 p.m. NBC Championship Match


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