Foreign flavor spices up field

Of the 64 who survived the 312-player battle royal for a spot in match play at the U.S. Amateur, seven claimed another country as their home.

The numbers were low in part because of the European Amateur Championship, which plays out in Berlin this week. As a result, the usual influx of top amateur players from the Europe are missing at the Olympic Club. Only two English players, Gary Wolstenholme and Farren Keenan, came to San Francisco this week, and only one, Wolstenholme, advanced to match play.

In their place was a scattering of players from South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, Norway and Venezuela, among other places. And at least for a day, a small child shall lead them.

Cheng-Tsung Pan, a 15-year-old who was silver medalist at the 2006 Asia Games, came to The City with somewhat lowered expectations.

“I didn’t think I would qualify,” Pan said Wednesday, after his 2 and 1 win over American Jay Moseley in the first round of match play surprised everyone, including himself. “Everyone said this course was really challenging, that I should try it.”

Pan continues into the round of 32 today against Ji Moon of Severna Park, Md. Not so for Norway’s Marius Thorp, the top amateur finisher at the 2006 British Open. The 19-year-old shot an impressive 69, but still lost on the final hole to incoming Stanford freshman Sihwan Kim. Despite the disappointment, Thorp remains focused on a future in the States.

“I think I golf better over here,” he said. “The conditions are better. I just like it better over here.”

Of the seven international players to make the cut, only three advanced to today’s action. One of them, Venezuela’s Jhonnatan Vegas, just completed his NCAA eligibility at Texas, so he is no stranger to U.S. amateur golf.

“This is one of the best tournaments in the U.S.,” he said after his 3 and 2 win over Clifford Blanchard. “I would even say the best. Playing against the best players in the world gives you confidence, and helps improve your reputation.”

It took Vegas three tries to get into the tournament.

“The first time,” he recalls, “I was playing great and then I got to the 18th and got an 8!”

Vegas arrived in the U.S. after high school, intending to find a spot on someone’s collegiate golf team. Eventually, he found a home at Texas. He will graduate next year and then take his shot at the PGA.

Canadian Nick Taylor, a sophomore at Washington, was the third international player to advance to today. Taylor defeated Derek Sipe 5 and 3.

As for the remaining international players, Wolstenholme, playing in his fifth U.S. Amateur, lost his match to 54-year-old George Zahringer. Their combined age (100) was almost seven times that of the 15-year-old Pan. Estanislao Goya of Argentina lost to much-decorated Southern Cal freshman Jamie Lovemark 3 and 2, while New Zealand’s Danny Lee lost his match against Casey Clendenon on the 18th hole.

Top seeds find it tough during match play

Youth and experience ruled as top amateur golfers went head-to-head at the Olympic Club on Wednesday. In a first round of match play at U.S. Amateur that was notable for those who did not advance, 15-year-old Cheng-Tsung Pan and 54-year-old George Zahringer surprised many by advancing to today’s second round.

Pan, playing in his first U.S. Amateur, defeated Auburn junior Jay Moseley 2 and 1, while Zahringer, in a “match of the aged,” beat 46-year-old Gary Wolstenholme 1 up.

Not as fortunate were players who stood atop the leaderboard Tuesday. Jason Kokrak, the top seed after stroke play, survived a scare against 64th-seeded A.J. Oleksak to win 2 and 1, but second-seeded Alex Prugh lost his match to Jon Curran on the first extra hole after rallying with a birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

“Any time you have match play, it’s tough to win,” Jamie Lovemark, the reigning Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year and No. 25 seed, said after his winning match against Argentina’s Estanislao Goya 3 and 2.

Overall, seven of the top 13 seeds lost their first match play rounds.

Was Pan the biggest surprise in match play?

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