A year ago at the U.S. Amateur, Stewart Hagestad made the mistake of underestimating his opponent. It’s easy to do when you meet a man – er, a young man – from a different sector of the game than the one in which you normally play.
In 2019, Hagestad was sent packing after the first round of his 10th U.S. Amateur start by then-17-year-old Maxwell Moldovan, who was just about to start his senior year of high school.
Hagestad is a 29-year-old veteran in this match-play format in every sense of the word. The two-time Walker Cupper, and 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, did not make the same mistake Wednesday at Bandon Dunes, a golf destination in central Oregon with jaw-dropping views. Instead, he dispatched Abel Gallegos, 18, on the 18th hole.
“I tried not to do the same, even though I didn’t know a ton about his game, because you don’t know the juniors as much, you know the college kids,” Hagestad said. “That kid can play.”
Yes, he can. In fact, courtesy of his Latin America Amateur Championship win in January, Gallegos is in the field for the 2020 Masters Tournament.
Gallegos had Hagestad 1 down almost immediately after a birdie at the par-3 second hole. The two matched birdies on the following par 5 before Gallegos struck again with a birdie on No. 8 to win another hole. Gallegos kept applying pressure.
Hagestad wasn’t able to tie it up again until a birdie at No. 17. He ended the kid’s week with a closing birdie at No. 18.
Asked what went through his head when he was 2 down to Gallegos on No. 12 tee, Hagestad said it wasn’t panic but rather resolve. In some ways, the kind of windy conditions players have had to navigate this week at Bandon Dunes certainly do favor his level of experience.
“At that point it’s not like it was getting any easier, and I was kind of hoping that it would blow a little,” he said. “One, lower ball flight, two, experience … and then three, just because the longer it goes, again, I’m not going to pull the Brooks Koepka experience card, but I’m more comfortable now than I maybe would have been in years prior.”
Down the bracket, there were many unsurprising victories, starting with Spencer Tibbits, a Vancouver, Washington, native with much experience in this part of the country. Tibbits, who will be a senior at Oregon State, knocked off Michael Brennan, another top junior in the field from Leesburg, Virginia.
McClure Meissner, the recent Southern Amateur champion who opened this championship with a 64 on Bandon Dunes, took down Angus Flanagan, last month’s Western Amateur stroke-play medalist, on the 17th hole.
Tyler Strafaci, winner of the North & South Amateur and the Palmetto Amateur earlier this summer, also moved on by defeating Kelly Chinn.
In the upset category, Charlotte’s Matthew Sharpstene took down match-play bulldog John Augenstein, the runner-up at this event last year, on the 18th hole.
In one of the most stunning comebacks of the day, Liberty’s Jonathan Yaun birdied Nos. 15-17 to take out Davis Thompson, No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and the highest-ranked player in the field.
Yaun has a propensity to pull that act, having won a match at the North & South Amateur earlier this summer with a front-nine 28 at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Yaun got past his opponent by a 9-and-8 margin that day.
“I’m not trying to make that many birdies,” Yaun said. “They really came so quickly, and the game plan this whole week was to stay one shot at a time, not get ahead of myself, forget about the last shot, don’t focus on the next hole, just focus on getting prepared to hit your next shot and trust that it’s not about forcing anything.”
Interestingly, Yaun was one of the final men added to the field this week after being an on-site alternate.
“I was like, okay, let’s go try and win this thing,” he said.
A man with an unexpected opportunity is a dangerous thing. Yaun will meet that across the bracket, too, in Thursday morning’s opening round when he plays Oklahoma State’s Aman Gupta, another last-minute addition.
How to watch
Thursday, Aug. 13 (Round of 16 matches): 6-7 p.m., Peacock; 7-9 p.m., Golf Channel
Friday, Aug. 14 (Quarterfinals matches): 6-7 p.m., Peacock; 7-9 p.m., Golf Channel
Saturday, Aug. 15 (Semifinal matches): 7-10 p.m., Golf Channel
Sunday, Aug. 16 (Championship match): 7-10 p.m., Golf Channel