🏌️♂️ Wilson's Words: Live from the U.S. Amateur
I was asked by freshman/sophomore Luke Kluver to caddy for him at this year’s United States Amateur – 36 holes of stroke play, leading to a 64-player match-play field. It is one of the only events the NCAA allows college coaches to caddy for their own players and obviously is one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the world. It is an annual goal for all of our players to be able to participate. This year we will have two players competing, Kluver and junior/senior Ben Sigel. Luke will be playing in his second U.S. Am. Sigel will be playing a very impressive fourth-straight. The tournament will be held at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. If you aren’t familiar with it, it is a golf mecca. It sits on the coast of Oregon and includes six different courses. Incredible scenery and phenomenal golf, it should be on every golfer’s bucket list! During normal college events, I spend all week worrying about 5-6 players, but this week it’s only two, so we thought it might be fun to share a little more of what it looks like behind the scenes and inside the ropes.
Hope you enjoy!
Tuesday, August 11
Final round of stroke play today.
Ben departs for breakfast and warm up.
I depart for Bandon Dunes. With Luke teeing off late, I want to go walk the golf course ahead of time. I have the chance to check out the hole locations and watch how balls are reacting in the wind. I get a chance to watch Ben play a couple holes as well.
I meet Luke at the range and we walk through a game plan based on a few things I saw out there. The actual set up at Bandon Dunes is completely different than what we expected. The course we saw in our practice round played so hard. The USGA (based on wind forecasts for yesterday) elected to move up multiple tees; No. 5 up 35 yards, No. 6 almost 50 yards, No. 11 up 30 yards, No. 15 up 30 yards, No. 18 up 20 yards. That being said, the course obviously played much easier than it would have from the back tees. All of these holes are straight into the wind.
I thought we were ready … but golf happened. Right out of the gate we miss club on No. 1 and hit it a little long leaving a tough up and down. Luke hits a good chip but the par putt slides by. No. 3 he crushes a drive and has 235 yards left into the par 5. We miss again here slightly. The flag is back and a long miss is no good. Luke wants to hit up into wind (15-20 mph crosswind) and let it drift back into the middle of the green but instead, he turns it over a bit and it rides the wind ending up long left. It’s one of the only places we can’t hit it. He hits a good safe pitch to 15 ft and misses a good birdie opportunity. We arrive at No. 5 and the tee has moved up 35 yards from the tee we played in our practice round. This is one of the only tee shots I would take back. We probably could have hit 2 iron and left ourselves 180ish which would be a long iron into the green but instead, we try to push it up and he leaves it out into the dunes. He chops it out, we miss the green and don’t get up and down. Now he’s 3 over on the day and not in a good place on the scorecard or mentally. No. 6 is a hard par 3. He hits a good shot and has a birdie look but settles for par. A bad 3 putt on #7 puts us way behind the 8 ball. He misses a 12ft putt on #8 for birdie but hits the par 5 9th in two and is able to two-putt for birdie. 3-over on the front 9. Not what we were looking for.
We have good birdie looks all over the back 9 and Luke looks more like himself down the stretch than he has the most of the week. Confident, Fearless and in the moment. A good birdie on #16 puts us 2 off what I think will be the cut line. We don’t really discuss this but we both know, we need to make some birdies. He gives himself 2 more good looks on 17 and 18 but isn’t able to capitalize on either. We finish at +2 for the day and 4 over total. The cut line ends up being 2 over.
The putter failed us this week. Tee-to-green, he looked really good. Wedges could have been better but he drove it really well. Unfortunately, we didn’t get up and down when we missed greens, and couldn’t buy a birdie putt. He had 34 putts both days… hard to beat the big boys doing that.
Ben needed a great round to advance today. He made a big number on #4 that pretty much knocked him out. He showed a little grit by shooting even par on the final 9. Making four-straight U.S. Ams is an accomplishment in and of itself. Plenty of good golf ahead for Ben.
I know both boys are disappointed. Luke took it pretty hard. No doubt his time is coming. He has work to do both on and off the course but he has a chance to be really really good.
I appreciated the chance to be on the bag. He put a lot of trust in me. I don’t take that lightly. Right now it feels a lot like I let him down. I need to be better too.
Now we all scramble to book flights and try to get home tomorrow. The school year (whatever that looks like) is now right around the corner. Time to worry about the college season.
Thanks for following along.
Monday, August 11:
Wake up call.
Luke and I depart for breakfast.
Tee time at Bandon Trails. We are the first group off, playing with Turk Pettit from Clemson and Trey Winstead from LSU. It’s a good group. All 3 are high-level players. It’s pretty quiet for the first few holes and you just get a sense that everyone knows “it just means a little more”.
Luke has a good look on No. 1 that burns the edge. On No. 2 we played for the front edge but leave ourselves 35 ft. up the hill. That leads to our first 3-putt, which unfortunately became the theme for the day. He makes a great up and down for birdie on the par 5 3rd and has 10 – 15 ft. for birdie on Nos. 4,6,8 and 9 and isn’t able to capitalize on any of them. He makes the turn at even-par and we both fee; like he should have been 3-under.
He makes a good par on the 256 yd par 3 12th. We arrive at 14 which is a drivable par 4 from an elevated tee. The green is really tough. Both Dunes and Trails have a couple par 4’s like this one. Great holes. Drivable but they have incredible green complexes. If you take the risk to get it down there but get it slightly out of position, you can struggle to even chip it on the green. We do this exact thing on 14. We’re five steps right of the green and end up pitching it back over the other side. Now we have almost the same shot. He elects to putt this one over the ridge and runs it by leading to a bogey 5. Luke is upset and I know it. I have walked a lot of holes with him already in his short KU career and I am still trying to figure out how to help him in these moments. He puts a lot of pressure on himself and has very high expectations. All of us have been there, thinking we are going to make a birdie and walk away with a bogey. It’s hard to handle that in any environment. It’s really hard in a pressure-packed environment like the U.S. Am. He is a little out of sorts on the next tee and hits his worst shot of the week off the tee. We even hit a provisional, but end up finding the first ball. He’s way out of position here and hits a decent shot to the front of the green but 3 putts. He’s now 2-over and I know he feels like he should be under par. 16 is a par 5 uphill. He hits a decent drive and is left with 225 yds, uphill 13 yards and into the wind. He’s between 2 and 3 iron. We choose 2, being aggressive. He ends up in the greenside bunker but has no shot going at the flag. He makes a good par and finishes with pars on 17 & 18. Turk shoots -2 and Trey +2.
He played better than he scored. He was beat up after the round. As a coach, I have to balance when to be a coach and when to be a friend. How to be a voice of reason and know when to listen. Today was a day that probably needed all of the above. We talked through some things while driving down to check out Bandon Beach. The coastline here is incredible. It was cold and VERY windy but beautiful. Looks like he will go into Tuesday’s round one shot outside of the cut number of 64 players. We need to take care of business tomorrow.
Ben struggled today. He said he drove it really well (which he hadn’t the previous 2 days) but every time he missed a shot it was in the worst place ever. He made 4 birdies and still shot 9 over. He will have his hands full tomorrow but he isn’t out of it. Ben has plenty of rounds in the 60’s in his career. He will likely need one to advance.
Tuesday Tee Times:
Ben 7:44 a.m. PT
Luke 11:13 a.m. PT
Sunday, August 9:
4:21 a.m. (PT)
I am up. Making progress though…
Ben wants to go practice early. He struggled with his ball flight in the wind on Saturday. Everything was launching too high and spinning too much. He ends up changing driver heads to a lower loft.
Tee time at Bandon Dunes. The wind is already blowing. The Dunes is way more exposed than Bandon Trails. So many holes carved right along the sea wall. We played with the same group again today. Tripp, Luke and Ben are all very familiar with each other and Johnny seemed to fit right in. The wind was a major factor today and it will be all week.
The front 9 No’s 5 and 6 are both set right along the ocean. Both will be straight into the wind and will provide players all they can handle. No. 5 is a par 4, 473 yds from the back tee. We decided to play the 445 yd tee today anticipating the back tee is too long for stroke play with the wind forecast. I saw multiple hybrids and woods pulled to reach this green even from this front tee. No. 6 is a par 3, 217 yards with ocean 5 paces from the left edge of the green. Wind straight in. Making par here will pick up one shot on the field. Both par 5’s are very gettable on this side. We will need to take advantage of these.
The back nine has so many hard holes. Every green complex is tough. Hole No. 10 is drivable and I would take a four there every time we play and be happy. Hole No. 11 is 469 yards straight into the wind. Holes No. 15-18 are very exposed and again run along the ocean. We had sustained winds today around 25 with gusts near 35 mph at this time of the day. Guys that handle this stretch well, will be in the hunt.
We finished up today again around 3:30 p.m. We were beat up. The guys wanted to get out of the wind for a bit. We made it home to watch the last 9-10 holes of the PGA. What a round by Morikawa! That shot on 16 was unreal. Dinner again in the condo and the boys were in bed early.
Bed time for me. 5:00 a.m. wake up call on the horizon Luke goes at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow. Ben at 11:57 a.m. The wind is supposed to be similar tomorrow with 25-35 mph in the afternoon. Forecasts call for lighter winds Tuesday (15-20 mph). I think we both got a good draw playing trails tomorrow in the morning and dunes in the afternoon on Tuesday. We’ll see… Still have to take care of business.
Saturday, August 8:
4:00 a.m. (PT)
I am wide awake. My little man (1 y/o Crosby) pretty much wakes at 6 a.m. on the dot every day therefore, so do we. 🙁
Spent some more time on my yardage books. Bandon Trails (especially) has some decent elevation changes from the tee to the green, so I want to make sure I have those highlighted in my book. Luke will put a lot of trust in me, my math and my estimates of wind speed/direction. I want to make sure I provide the best information I can.
Ben is awake and seems itching to go. No sign of Luke.
Ben is now really ready to go. No sign of Luke.
Ben is pounding on Luke’s door. Luke says “5 minutes”. The joys of roaming the country with college boys. Coach Bermel and I usually have all the information, arrange all of the travel, decide when and where we go and when we leave. This week I am leaving it up to these two. I find myself constantly asking “What course are we on? When do we play? What time are we leaving?” I miss my itinerary with the entire week planned ahead of time.
We arrive at breakfast and now have to show our credentials to get in the door. We are all required to answer a series of questions concerning any COVID-19 symptoms before we get here. Upon completion, a text with a ✅, the date and your name is sent to you. We need this, our badge and our temperature taken. After a little work (a return trip to the condo to get someone’s left behind badge), our entire group manages to jump through all the hoops. Breakfast is quick. I again grab the extra burrito to go and today both boys follow suit. We will likely miss lunch.
Quick warm-up at the practice facility. Very little breeze early, but it’s supposed to BLOW today – 20-25 mph.
Tee time at Bandon Trails. Today we are joined again by Tripp Kinney from Iowa State and Johnny Travale from UCF. We play the first hole in a quick 10 minutes and then immediately are stacked up with 3 groups on No. 2. It’s a long par 3 and guys are all spending a lot of time chipping. The wind really picks up throughout the day. Luke looks really solid. We choose good lines off the tee and hit our spots pretty consistently with approaches. On the green, I placed tees in all 4 corners of each green and the guys worked on speed and hitting putts to where the flag could likely be. Nos. 15–18 are all straight into the wind. By the time we get here, the wind is whipping. Guys were hitting 8-9 irons from 120 yards on No. 5. Luke normally hits a stock 9 iron 155 yards. He flighted one down and it barely got there. Missed a 2nd attempt and it came up short in the bunker. No. 18 is a par 4, 420 yards a little uphill off the tee and was straight into the wind. Ben hit driver – 3wood to the front bunker. Luke hit driver – 3 iron to the front edge. It played LONG! The finishing holes made a long day really long.
We putt out on 18 and contemplate eating lunch or just eating an early dinner. College boys want to eat all the time, but somehow we chose the latter. They want to rest, clean up and watch a little of the PGA Championship.
Dinner at Bandon Trails and a little putting. Luke wants to use a heavier putter tomorrow to help with stability in the wind.
Home from dinner and putting. I’m worn out. My phone says I have walked 8+ miles both yesterday and today. We tee it at Bandon Dunes at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning for our final practice round. Wind still blowing 25 mph. The practice green at Bandon Dunes was just almost unplayable. This could be interesting….
Friday, August 7:
Luke and I have a test (for the second time this week) for COVID-19. Ben tested on Thursday and is waiting on his results today. We all had a saliva test earlier in the week that came back negative. Today’s test was a nasal swab. Eleven seconds swirling in each nostril. Not really painful but not something I would want to do each day – It was definitely uncomfortable. Breakfast at 8:45 a.m., and we plan out the day. Luke wants to leave to practice at 9:50 prior to the Par 3 contest at Bandon Preserve at 11:10 a.m. He warms up. I make a few phone calls and check in with Coach Bermel at home concerning the upcoming season and school year. So many unknowns on both fronts. With so many college coaches here this week, the uncertainty of the fall season will be discussed nonstop. We’re all trying to work through it together.
We play the par 3 course against Iowa State players Tripp Kinney, Lachlan Barker and Minnesota’s Angus Flanagan. Angus doesn’t have a teammate so I become his partner for tee balls only (he gets to use my approach shot). Angus and I tie the Jayhawks at 2-under.
The boys head off to eat lunch, practice and watch a little of the PGA Championship. Tiger and Gary Woodland are both in the featured groups late this afternoon. I grab the breakfast burrito I took from breakfast (veteran move) and head to Bandon Dunes to walk the front nine. The wind blew so hard when we played here in the spring. It’s expected to blow here this week and is today. Just finding your lines off the tee can be challenging. The wind direction/speed and the ground contour has such a huge impact on what you want to hit off the tee and where you want to start each tee ball. So different than most courses we play in the U.S. We are used to “target golf”. We can usually see where we are hitting it and it most likely will stop on that same line when you hit there. Not so much out here. Balls can roll to some crazy places.
I drive to Bandon Trails to walk the course before our practice round there tomorrow. Bandon Trails is a little more hidden in the trees and is less exposed to the elements. It’s an awesome course. Probably my favorite out here.
Luke and Ben head back to the practice area to putt
I call it a day. I’m old. My feet are tired.
I spend some time working on my yardage book. Dinner in the room and some golf highlights on tv.
Dinner for the boys in the condo and I would guess they crash early. Good first day. Looking forward to our practice round tomorrow at Bandon Trails at 9:56 AM.
Thursday, August 6
Departure from KC. Connect in Denver. Arrived at 9:30 p.m. into Eugene, Oregon. Kluver arrived at 8:30 and is waiting for me at the baggage claim. It’s good to see him. We all parted ways March 13th after returning from Bandon Dunes (our last event in March before the world shut down) and really haven’t seen each other since. We obviously played the Bandon Dunes college event this past spring knowing the U.S. Amateur would be here this summer. Luke played solid that week (minus the final hole) and I walked every hole with him. It never hurts to get extra looks at a course. Hopefully, it pays off. After getting our rental car and luggage we depart for Bandon around 9:50 p.m. Arrived at the resort around 12:15 a.m. Unpack and in bed around 1:00 a.m.