DuPont - On a day when players were penalized for taking too long to finish their rounds at The Home Course, a 47-year-old car dealer from California showed the U.S. Amateur field the best way to speed things up.
Take seven fewer shots than everybody else.
Jeff Wilson finished what he called the best round of his life with back-to-back eagles to post a 10-under-par 62 and set a record for The Home Course. His score was seven better than the eight others, including former University of Washington star Nick Taylor, who shot a 3-under 69.
It was also six better than Monday’s top golfer at Chambers Bay, Patrick Reed of Georgia. Reed shot a 3-under 68 at Chambers.
The players switch courses today for the final round of qualifying before the 64-player match play tournament begins Wednesday at Chambers Bay.
“It’s like insurance,” said Wilson, who works at his family’s Toyota dealership in Vallejo, Calif. “You shoot a good one today and it gives you that much of a cushion for tomorrow.”
Wilson broke The Home Course record of 64 set by Bainbridge Island’s Carl Jonson earlier this year.
Wilson said he knew he was having a special round right from the beginning when he made mid-range putts on his first three holes – holes 10, 11 and 12 – to quickly get to 2-under par.
“I made all the putts I should have and the putts I probably shouldn’t have,” Wilson said.
He made four birdies and one bogey on the back nine then finished with two eagles and three birdies on his final seven holes to post a 29 on the front nine.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it; I was fortunate,” Wilson said.
He only needed an 8-foot putt to eagle the par-5 eighth hole. He holed a 131-yard shot with a wedge on the par-4 ninth.
“I was in disbelief,” Wilson said of his final shot.
Wilson’s play overshadowed a day that had been mired by slow-play warnings. USGA officials handed out warnings to 13 threesomes during the morning rounds and more in the evening.
Washington State University’s Nick Ellis was among the threesome most impacted by the penalties.
His group was too late for three of the four checkpoints and was penalized three strokes, turning his round of 73 into a 4-over 76. The penalty knocked him out of the top 64 spots.
“It’s an unfortunate thing,” Ellis said. “They (USGA rules officials) obviously didn’t see the situation the right way.”
The USGA requires golfers to be no more than 14 minutes behind the group in front of them at checkpoints after the fourth, ninth, 13th and 18th holes.
Ellis was particularly upset that his group, which included Michael Brown of Pennsylvania and Tevis Upton of Georgia, was told to mark balls on the green on No. 4 to allow the group behind them to play up in order to alleviate congestion. While they waited the group ahead of them started pulling away.
USGA rules official Jeff Hall said Ellis’ group was less than 14 minutes behind after the fourth hole and should have been able to stay within that window.
“Is the process perfect?” Hall said. “No. No pace of play policy is perfect, but this puts the onus where it needs to be (on the players).”
Ellis’ group was 24 minutes behind after the ninth hole and they were given a warning. They were 31 minutes behind after the 13th hole and were told they’d receive a 1-stroke penalty.
They were given an additional 2-stroke penalty after the 18th hole when they were 16 minutes behind.
Despite making up 15 minutes, Hall said the players could have done more.
“I’m looking for effort,” said Hall, who watched Ellis’ group for the final nine holes. “I didn’t see anybody consistently try to drag the others along.”
Hall said he wanted to see players running between shots, selecting their clubs faster and playing out of turn if needed to improve the pace.
Ellis group wasn’t the only one penalized for slow play. Two groups were given 1-stroke penalties for slow play, but the penalties were later rescinded.
Tyler Sheppard of Texas was in a group that had its penalty canceled.
“They told us they didn’t penalize us because of the effort we made,” Sheppard said.
At one point, the golfers and their caddies sprinted up the hill after finishing the 14th hole.
“We sprinted, we didn’t worry about honors on the tee,” Sheppard said. “The first one there hit.”
Hall said players were informed about the pace of play policy and given the details of the rules in their registration packets.
“They had the opportunity to be very informed,” he said.
Ellis, playing in his first U.S. Amateur, said he played as quickly as he could and believes his quick pace cost him an additional three strokes.
Ellis said he will be able to shake off the penalty at the challenging Chambers Bay today.
“I’ll play my best,” Ellis said. “And hopefully this won’t even matter.”
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 firstname.lastname@example.org