BANDON, Ore.—Put together 264 golfers of closely matched skill sets. Have them play 36 holes to whittle the collection to just 64. Both the odds and logic say you’re going to get a bunch of them trying to squeeze through a bottleneck to safety. It’s the beauty of the USGA’s format for the U.S. Amateur, creating more drama for those on the bubble than the contenders for medal-play honors.
It can also be a royal pain, especially when there are too many stubborn golfers who won’t go away. For Wednesday morning, it will look like a charge to the hills for the Gold Rush up here when 18 men, having tied at two over par, take to the 10th tee of the Bandon Dunes course to battle for a mere three spots in the match play that begins later in the day. The proceedings go off at 7:15 a.m. PT, when the sun is bright and the breeze soft on the Oregon coast.
Eighteen people—one for each hole if they went out in singles in a shotgun start—seems particularly wild and complicated to manage, but the USGA has been doing this a long time and has seen far bigger traffic jams. In fact, 18 gets kind of an indifferent shrug. The record is 33 playoff contenders for 10 places in 1988 at Virginia Hot Springs. On four other occasions there have been at least 25 contestants, and it could be argued that the most sinister playoff came at Pinehurst just last year, when 27 poor souls were scratching for three spots—a nearly four-hour ordeal well documented by Golf Digest.
The current stampede at Bandon promises tales of elation and woe. There is that already, with four hopefuls having bogeyed their final hole Tuesday on either Bandon Dunes or Bandon Trails. If just three of them make par, we’re not in this playoff predicament.
If there’s someone who needs a thought-wave uplifting it’s Alex Schaake, a University of Iowa product who birdied the 16th hole at Bandon Trails and was cruising inside the bubble, only to triple bogey the par-3 17th and bogey the 18th to shoot 76 after opening with a 69.
On the flip side, seven players clutched up and birdied their final holes. The best run went to Mississippi State senior Garrett Johnson, who negated a birdie at 16 with a bogey at 17, only to bounce back with a birdie at 18. Aaron Du, who is headed for Cal to play golf, had a wild finish, going triple bogey, birdie, birdie, bogey, birdie.