A century after Francis Ouimet, more history is being made by amateur golfers at The Country Club.
Never before in the 112 previous playings of the US Amateur had there been a championship match that didn’t include at least one American. There’s no American even through to the semifinals this year, with the final three being sent home during Friday’s quarterfinals.
Losses by a pair of US teenagers set up the first all-Australian semifinal. Brady Watt beat Scottie Scheffler of Dallas, 1-up, not long after Oliver Goss knocked out Brandon Matthews of Dupont, Pa., 5 and 3.
A pair of Perth mates will meet in the semifinals, with plenty at stake: Not only will the winner from their 9:15 a.m. match on Saturday advance to the US Amateur final — against either Corey Conners of Canada or Matt Fitzpatrick of England — he’ll receive invitations to next year’s Masters and US Open.
Watt and Goss are staying in the same house this week in Wellesley, and were scheduled to attend Friday night’s Red Sox-Yankees game together. They also have a lengthy history of playing against each other, so Saturday’s match, while important, won’t be the first time they’ve tussled.
“We’ve had a lot of close tournaments together, and we really enjoy playing together. I think we get the best out of ourselves,” said Watt. “We’re going to look forward to tomorrow, to show everyone good shots.”
Watt had plenty of those on Friday, but the best shot belonged to his opponent. Not even a hole-in-one by Scheffler on the seventh hole at The Country Club was enough to get the 17-year-old into the semifinals, ending his bid to become the first reigning US Junior Amateur champion to win the US Amateur in the same summer.
“Didn’t finish as well as I’ve been this week,” Scheffler said. “I guess that’s why I lost.”
The Country Club’s 18th hole had been good to Scheffler all week. He won the hole when he was 1-down in his opening match (winning in 20 holes), halved the hole in the second round (winning again in 20 holes), then won the hole to claim his third-round match, 1-up.
So with his match against Watt all square after 17 holes, it appeared Scheffler was going to provide some late magic for the fourth straight round, even after his drive found the first cut of rough. But his approach shot from 185 yards plugged in the front bunker, his third shot failed to reach the green, and his chip for par ran past the hole.
Needing only to get up-and-down from the right rough to win the match, Watt’s delicate chip out of the thick grass stopped 5 feet short, and he drained the putt.
“The lie was terrible, the worst one I’ve seen all week,” said Watt, who was the co-medalist and is the No. 2 match-play seed. “I holed a bunch of clutch 5-footers out there today. The one on the last was probably the seventh or eighth.”
It gave Watt his only lead of the match. Great timing, because they had no more holes left to play. There to greet him on the 18th green was Goss, the No. 3 seed, and also Brad James, the director of Golf Australia, the country’s developmental program that trains the best young talent.
“Just to get two guys here in the quarterfinals is a great accomplishment, for them to get to the semis, fantastic,” said James, who had been part of the golf program at Minnesota, as a player and coach, for “17 cold years,” as he put it. “Those guys are fantastic friends, they’ve built a great relationship over the years, they’ve had some great competition with each other the last couple of years.”
Goss and Watt were involved in a playoff at this year’s Western Australian Open, a professional event that included European Tour players. Goss won on the fifth extra hole, the third straight time he’s defeated Watt in a tournament when both were in contention.
“Down the stretch I’ve been able to just get that one up on him every single time,” said Goss, who at 19 is three years younger than Watt. “We’re going to wish each other the best of luck tomorrow and see who comes out on top, but we’re definitely going to come out and give it all we’ve got. We definitely want to beat each other at our best.”
From the moment Matthews snap-hooked his opening drive out of bounds and lost the first hole, Goss never trailed in his quarterfinal. Down by one hole after the seventh, Matthews lost Nos. 8 (bogey), 10 (bogey), and 14 (triple bogey). The match ended at the 15th when Goss, needing two putts to win, rolled in an 18-footer for birdie.
“When I’m hitting the driver straight I can go really low, [but] today I was almost scared to hit it, after that first tee shot,” said Matthews, who plays at Temple. “I almost had it with every club today, I couldn’t hit a fairway with a 4- or 5-iron. You have those days. Everyone has those days.”
Matthews — and Scheffler — can take solace in knowing that by reaching the quarterfinals, they’ll be exempt into next year’s US Amateur.
Watt and Goss are exempt, too. But by winning Friday, they suddenly have bigger dreams. They’ll decide on Saturday who gets to live theirs.