The 32 matches in the first round of match play went off starting at 8 on a beautiful summer morning at Norwood Hills CC.
The six remaining in the playoff, suspended due to darkness on Wednesday night, gathered at the 10th tee at 7:30 to identify one player to advance into the round of 64. Justin Mitchell of West Plains made a five-footer for birdie after Brett Windsor, the youngster from Boonville HS, missed a slightly longer putt and none of the other four could do better than par. Mitchell advanced to play #1 seed Joey Johnson in the last match of the day. Johnson beat a game Mitchell ,2 & 1.
Given the overall skill level and the tightly bunched qualifying scores, we can’t call any of the Thursday outcomes an “upset.” That said, we did see the #3 seed, Matt Green, go down to Mitchell Mather, and #8 seed Ryan Eckelkamp lose to Alex Palen. In all, 19 of the 32 higher seeds won.
Two matches took extra holes to get a decision. Carr Vernon, a collegiate player from Poplar Bluff, was taken to 19 holes by young Jack Litzelfelner III of Jackson. Ryan Buerk came back from 2 down through 15 to defeat Buddy Allen on the fourth extra hole in Thursday’s longest match.
So, we have 32 players getting ready for Friday’s double round that will get us to eight players in the Saturday quarterfinals. MGA Executive Director Scott Hovis, a former Kansas State player and accomplished amateur, believes that somewhat difficult hole locations on Friday lead to a better identification of the players most worthy of advancing. I have seen the Friday hole locations and can tell you that Scott has achieved his goal of making it tough. The golfers on Friday know that they’re going to be facing some risky shots when going at the pin may not be the wisest choice, yet playing too conservatively will lead to a long and difficult approach putt. Add to that Superintendent Mike Null’s plan to double-cut and roll the greens Friday morning and we have what many players call “golf’s toughest day” in their quest for the Amateur title. What to do? Scott will tell you to make smart choices and, more importantly, hit quality shots.
Three former champions remain: Skip Berkmeyer, Brad Nurski, and defending champ Joey Johnson. The oldest guy in match play, four-time Amateur winner Don Bliss, was ousted by 16-year-old Tanner Elder on the 18th hole. This was Don’s 31st time making match play in a Missouri Amateur career that began in 1972! You do the math… Young Tanner gets no break Friday as he now faces Steve Groom, arguably the best senior player in the state the past couple of years.
Let the fun begin Friday morning as we march on to the Sunday finals of the 107th Missouri Amateur.