U.S. Amateur as much of a mental test as an evaluation of great shotmaking

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The U.S. Amateur is a relentless test of shotmaking, but perhaps the greater challenge may be avoiding the psychological

A player can’t win the U.S. Amateur golf championship simply by staying calm under the wilting pressure that builds throughout the competition. He’ll still have to hit shots that seem to get more difficult as the week wears on.

But a player can get knocked out of the tournament if he lets his mind wander, even for just a few moments. The tournament is a relentless test of shotmaking, but perhaps the greater challenge may be avoiding the psychological hazards that can be as costly as any bunkers or out-of-bounds markers.

The 117th U.S. Amateur begins Monday at Riviera and Bel-Air Country Clubs, where 312 of the world’s best not-yet-professionals will play 18 holes on each course over two days. The low 64 scorers then will move on to match play at Riviera, where the field will be whittled daily until two golfers remain for next Sunday’s 36-hole final.

It’s essentially two tournaments in one: Stroke play over the first two days will eliminate almost four-fifths of the field. Then the one-on-one, single-elimination match play will leave one champion Sunday afternoon.

Jonah Texeira, one of six golfers from this year’s USC team in the field, paid the price of letting his mind leave the moment. He reached the semifinals in last year’s Amateur at Oakland Hills in Michigan after cruising through four matches with easy victories. He was calm through the first half of his semifinal match against Brad Dalke from Oklahoma.

“Then I suddenly realized where I was and the tournaments I’d be exempted to if I stuck with it, going to the Masters and the U.S. Open,” Texeira, 21, said. “I started thinking about the outcome rather than the present. That was my downfall.”

Texeira, two up after nine holes, lost 3 and 2.

“If I get in that situation again,” Texeira said, “I’ll recognize it, and I’ll be able to deal with it.”

Cal junior Collin Morikawa, of La Cañada Flintridge, suffered a similar fate a year ago.

He had played well in the round of 32 during morning matches and expected that to carry through in the round of 16 in the afternoon. It didn’t.

“I didn’t stay focused,” said Morikawa, fifth in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. “There are so many great players, you just can’t think ahead of yourself. The best separate themselves when they forget about what could happen and focus on the present.”

He fell three down after eight holes to David Boote of Wales and never recovered.

USC frequently plays at Riviera, which might offer an edge to the six players from the team in the field. In addition to Texeira, Sean Crocker — a semifinalist in the 2015 Amateur — Andrew Levitt, Danny Ochoa, Justin Suh and Cheng Jin are in the field.

Stewart Hagestad of Newport Beach, who graduated from USC in 2013, is making his eighth appearance in the Amateur. He won the 2016 Mid-Amateur, the USGA’s top amateur competition for players 25 and over, and was the low amateur in this year’s Masters, tying for 36th. He’ll be trying for the first time to make it to match play in the Amateur.

Some other players who bear watching include Maverick McNealy of Portola Valley, No. 2 in the world ranking; Cameron Champ of Sacramento, who tied for 32nd in the U.S. Open; Sahith Theegala of Chino Hills and Pepperdine, who reached the Amateur quarterfinals last year and made the cut in this year’s Genesis Open at Riviera; Scottie Scheffler of Dallas, low amateur in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills; and Sam Burns of Louisiana State, the Division I Jack Nicklaus Player of the Year who finished tied for sixth in the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championships in July.

117th U.S. AMATEUR GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP

When: Monday through Aug. 20

Where: Stroke-play qualifying Monday and Tuesday at Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club. Match play Wednesday through Aug. 20 at Riviera

TV: Wednesday: FS1 2-5 p.m.; Thursday-Friday: FS1 3-6 p.m.; Saturday: Ch. 11 9-noon; Aug. 20: Ch. 11, 1:30-4:30 p.m.

Tickets: 2017usamateur.lasec.net

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