Semifinal Field Set in U.S. Amateur

How the Elite Eight became the Final Four

Continuing of his suspended Round of 16 match in the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills C.C., John Marshall Butler tees off Friday on the first playoff hole. He would win the match and advance to the the quarterfinals—and earn a spot in Saturday's semifinals. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)
Continuing his suspended Round of 16 match in the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills C.C., John Marshall Butler tees off Friday on the first playoff hole. He would win the match and advance to the the quarterfinals—and earn a spot in Saturday’s semifinals. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)

By Jon Rizzi

Nightfall had forced the suspension of Thursday’s final match in the Round of 16 of the 123rd U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club, so before the Elite Eight could become the Final Four, John Marshall Butler and Paul Chang—the players who were all square after 18 holes the night before—had to settle their match in a sudden-death playoff starting on the par-4 10th.

And the end came suddenly. After getting into tree trouble with a pushed tee shot, Chang reached the green in three and missed his par and bogey putts.

He then conceded Butler’s short par putt, giving the rising Auburn senior the final spot in the quarterfinals. “Paul is a great player,” Butler said afterwards. “We had a fantastic match, probably one of the best matches I’ll have of my life.”

Giving No Quarter

Less than an hour later, Butler continued his winning ways against his quarterfinal opponent, José Islas of México. The Auburn University senior took the first hole with a birdie and never trailed during the match, winning 3 and 2. “I couldn’t have played better golf,” Butler said. “I was in control of my mind and my game. Your mind is the most powerful tool. Even though you have 14 clubs, the most important tool is your mind.”

On Saturday afternoon, Butler will put his mind to defeating Neal Shipley, an Ohio State University senior who has earned as much media attention for his flow of long thick hair as he has for his all-around solid game.

Neal Shipley
Neal Shipley watches his tee shot on hole four during the quarterfinals of the 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills C.C. in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)

 

In his match against rising University of San Diego senior Andi Xu, Shipley found himself 2 down after the fourth hole but won holes 8-10 to take a one-hole lead, which he would relinquish on hole 12, recapture on 15 and increase by one on 17, sealing the match. “I was just trying to keep myself in position,” he said. “When you do that in match play, you force guys to try to go for the hero shot and make something happen, and a lot of times that doesn’t work out.”

Hey, Nineteens

Like the match that punched Butler’s ticket to the quarterfinal round, Nick Dunlap and Parker Bell both needed 19 holes to advance to the semifinals on Saturday.

In the “Iron Bowl of Amateur Golf,” Dunlap, a University of Alabama sophomore, crossed clubs with incoming Auburn freshman Jackson Koivun. The 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur champion who in the Round of 64 had dispatched Walker Cup teammate (and WAGR no. 1) Gordon Sargent, Dunlap took the first hole with a birdie, but Koivun immediately pushed back and went up by two.

Nick Dunlap
Nick Dunlap prevailed after 19 holes in a back-and-forth quarterfinal match with Jackson Koivun.(USGA/Kathryn Riley)

Dunlap’s birdies on the par-3 8th and 12th holes tied the score, and his par on the course’s final par 3, no. 15, put him up by one. Koivun answered by winning 16 with a par. The pair pushed on the last two holes of regulation, with Dunlap carding three-putt bogey on No. 18 to take the match to extra holes.

With both players on the green of the 333-yard first hole in two, Dunlap putted first from 20 feet and drained it. He then watched as Koivun, who is No. 73 in the WAGR, missed his tying bid from 12 feet.

“I know it’s hard to win; it’s hard to win for him, it’s hard to win for me, and just give all you got,” Dunlap said after the match.  “That just shows, I was feeling like I was in a bad spot on the last hole, and you never know what can happen. I felt like if I could somehow give myself a putt and make it, you never know what happens. Fortunately, it all turned out in my favor.”

Three and Out

A three-putt on 18 also put the match between Bell and rising University of Virginia sophomore Ben James into a sudden-death scenario on the Palmer tee at Cherry Hills’ first hole.

The winner of the Phil Mickelson Award as the top freshman in the country, James had won hole 16 with a birdie and 17 with an eagle to square the match heading into the 487-yard finishing hole.

Parker Bell
Parker Bell never trailed in his match with Ben James, but their showdown went to the 19th hole on Friday. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

But on No. 18 he missed a 2½-foot putt for bogey that would have won him the match. Instead, he equaled the 6 carded by Bell, who also took three to get down from the side of the steeply pitched green.

Given a reprieve, on the 19th hole, Bell took full advantage of his opportunity. The University of Florida sophomore making a 5-foot birdie putt after James’ long birdie try slid past the hole.

“I really thought it was over. He was steady all day putting,” said Bell of James’ three-putt on No. 18. “When he missed it, it felt like new life, and I’m sure he was pretty boggled by that. The momentum kind of swung to my side. I didn’t really want it to go any further. When you get a chance like that to win it, you never know if you’re going to get another opportunity, so you’ve got to take advantage.”

Saturday’s Semi-Final schedule:

Parker Bell vs. Nick Dunlap 12:00 p.m. (MDT)

Neal Shipley vs. John Marshall Butler 12:15. (MDT)

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

To catch the action on television:

Date/Day Time (MDT) Network Coverage
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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