It feels like ages ago that Spencer Tibbits and his team carted off the trophy at the Bandon Dunes Collegiate. When the Oregon State van pulled off the property on March 10, it ended up being the end of the college season. NCAA sports were canceled two days later.
Tibbits returns to Bandon, Oregon, this week to make his second U.S. Amateur start as part of a 264-man field. The Vancouver, Washington, native is among five players in the field from Washington (there are none from Oregon).
While other players gape at Bandon’s beauty, it just feels like home to Tibbits. He’s more worried about keeping his head on straight. The Pacific Northwest has shaped his game, so his biggest challenge will be in staying patient.
U.S. Amateur: Tee times and groupings to watch
“You have to be able to hit the ball very low. You have to be able to keep your balance well, too,” he said. “When it’s that windy, if it’s blowing you all over the place, you just have to find a way to be able to stay stable and not be too intimidated by the conditions you’re playing in.”
Tibbits guesses he’s logged 15 or 20 rounds on the resort’s various courses. On Monday morning, he’ll be in the leadoff group on Bandon Dunes’ first tee.
A year ago, Tibbits journeyed to Pinehurst, North Carolina, for his U.S. Am debut alone. He carted his own bag rather than use a caddie. He’ll go it alone this week, too.
“For some reason, I just feel like I operate better when I’m doing it alone, just kind of in my own thoughts and not having to worry about anyone else,” Tibbits said by way of explanation. A year ago, he made it to the Round of 64.
Tibbits knows the Bandon setup will be infinitely harder this week than it was in March. He knows what the term “USGA setup” means after playing the 2019 U.S. Open. He made it through local and sectional qualifying to reach Pebble Beach, though interestingly, almost withdrew from locals after a poor showing at the Pac-12 Championship at Eugene (Oregon) Country Club diminished his spirits.
Instead, he went through with it, arrived 20 minutes before his tee time at Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course in Bremerton, Washington, then hustled out to shoot a 65 and win the qualifier.
He only missed the cut at Pebble Beach by one shot.
“I think Spencer has a game that he can play on really difficult golf courses,” Oregon State head coach Jon Reehoorn said back in March, after Tibbits’ top-3 finish individually at the Bandon Collegiate.
The rest of the college season might not have materialized for Tibbits, but he has played the North & South Amateur (98th), Southern Amateur (76th), Sunnehanna Amateur (31st) and Western Amateur, where he barely missed the 16-man match-play bracket after 72 holes.
Tibbits found a little something more in his game each week, particularly two weeks ago at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Indiana, for the Western. After opening with a 77, he battled back with a second-round 66 and after two more rounds was in a seven-way playoff for the 16th and final spot (but failed to advance).
“I can be playing not very well and then all of a sudden, some random hole in a tournament can just light it up for the next couple months, from what I’ve experienced in my career,” he said. “I’m feeling like I can do pretty well this tournament, just gotta keep my head on straight, just not worry about anything.”
He knows his way around.
Fatigue sets in
Ricky Castillo would have been the highest-ranked player in the U.S. Amateur field this week at Bandon Dunes. But Castillo, at No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, will be sitting out this week. The rising Florida sophomore withdrew from the championship, telling GolfChannel.com that he has experienced extreme fatigue leading up to the week.
Per Golf Channel reporting, Castillo tested negative for COVID-19 twice, but wanted to protect the field just in case. Oklahoma State’s Aman Gupta was added to the field in his place.
Castillo recently made a run to the semifinals – for the second consecutive year – at the Western Amateur. It’s a week that’s similarly grueling to the U.S. Amateur. He played seven rounds in five days before bowing out at the hand of Rasmus Neergaard-Petersen.
Davis Thompson, at No. 4 in the WAGR, is now the highest-ranked player in the field.
The coronavirus pandemic derailed the college golf season just when it was starting to heat up. Several schools had a legitimate claim for the title of the nation’s best team. It’s a shame we’ll never truly know who had the best squad from the 2019-20 season.
Or will we?
While amateur golf fans were robbed of what was setting up to be an exciting NCAA Championship, the pandemic has provided a star-studded U.S. Amateur. The field shrunk from 312 to 264 players, and 36-hole qualifiers were eliminated. Instead, the top 225 players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking as of June 24 earned spots in the field. Let’s do the math, shall we? A smaller field with a guaranteed top-ranked billing free of qualifier mishaps equals one intriguing tournament.
And if we’re to entertain this idea? Advantage Oklahoma State, Pepperdine and Texas Tech.
All three are sending an astounding seven players to this year’s event. Arizona State, Oklahoma, Auburn and North Carolina each have six in the field, with several other programs having five men. They’re above-average numbers.
“Four guys would have been my high mark,” Texas Tech head coach Greg Sands said of previous U.S. Am lineups. “Any time you’re qualifying, even the best players sometimes don’t make it. … I think that’s a pretty standard number for a really good team, when you’re getting four or five in.”
Sands could have claimed as many as nine players. Despite qualifying through exemption categories, Swede Ludvig Aberg is not in the field and neither is incoming freshman Bard Bjornevik Skogen of Norway. Both were unable to make it because of travel restrictions. Kyle Hogan, a native Texan, was the last Tech player to get in off his WAGR ranking after other categories were filled. Sands, like many college coaches, will be on property as a caddie. He’s carrying Garrett Martin’s bag.
While travel bans certainly have prevented some top international talent from getting to Bandon Dunes, the field still features representation from 33 countries, 18 past USGA champions 11 more runners-up. Here’s more:
In total, there are 264 players in this year’s field.
- Average age: 23.16
- States represented: 36
- Texas (26), California (24), North Carolina (15) and Florida (12) lead the way.
- Countries represented: 33
- United States (189), England (8), People’s Republic of China (5), Germany (5), Argentina (4), Australia (4), Canada (4), Chile (4), Japan (4), Spain (4), Denmark (3), France (3), Norway (3), Belgium (2), Colombia (2), South Africa (2), Sweden (2); and Chinese Taipei, Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Scotland, Singapore, Slovakia, Thailand, Wales and Zimbabwe each have one.
- Top 50 players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking: 29
- Davis Thompson (4), Sandy Scott (6), Pierceson Coody (7), John Pak (8), Andy Ogletree (9), Stewart Hagestad (15), Cole Hammer (16), William Mouw (17), John Augenstein (21), Austin Eckroat (22), Quade Cummins (23), Matthias Schmid (24), Joseph Pagdin (25), McClure Meissner (26), Eric Bae (30), Yuxin Lin (32), Cooper Dossey (33), Scott Harvey (36), Garrett Rank (37), Devon Bling (38), Cameron Sisk (39), Michael Thorbjornsen (41), David Perkins (43), Noah Goodwin (44), Spencer Ralston (45), Jovan Rebula (46), Tim Widing (48), Alex Fitzpatrick (49), Trey Winstead (50)