July 16, 2014

Four players share Public Links medalist honors

The big prize that golfers are chasing in the 89th U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship won’t be awarded until Saturday.

The big prize that golfers are chasing in the 89th U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship won’t be awarded until Saturday.

But the United States Golf Association recognizes the top finisher after two days of stroke-play qualifying with a commemorative medal.

Make that four medals.

Texas signee Doug Ghim, USC sophomore Rico Hoey, Pacific senior Byron Meth and UNLV junior Zane Thomas posted 36-hole totals of 8-under-par 134 to share medalist honors in the Public Links’ final playing at Sand Creek Station Golf Course. The quartet leads a field of 64 golfers who will begin single-elimination match play on Wednesday.

It was the first time since 1939 that APL stroke-play qualifying ended with four players tied atop the leaderboard. Championship chairman Bill Fallon told the group during a presentation ceremony that one would be awarded a medal and three would receive theirs by mail.

“It’s pretty special, but by the end of the day, you still have I don’t know how many matches to play,” said Hoey, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. “You haven’t won the tournament. They don’t remember the guy who won the stroke play.”

Indeed, reigning champion Jordan Niebrugge was six shots behind 2013 APL medalist Garrett Rank in last year’s qualifying, but the Oklahoma State junior ran the six-match gauntlet to the title. Niebrugge, of Mequon, Wis., will have the chance to repeat after posting a 146 total, one shot clear of an 11-man playoff that decided the final seven match-play spots Tuesday evening.

There was no such drama for the four medalists, who were two shots ahead of New Mexico senior Sam Saunders. All played the second round on an unseasonably mild afternoon that yielded optimal scoring conditions.

Thomas, a Las Vegas native who shared the first-round lead with Rank and Michael Colgate, followed his 66 with a 3-under 68. Thomas received the No. 1 seed for match play by random draw and will play Florida State sophomore Josh Lee in the opening match of the first round at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

“It was kind of a little bit of a struggle on my front nine,” said Thomas, who had three bogeys in a five-hole stretch. “I threw a couple strokes away on the greens, but then I turned and got a little hot with the putter.”

Thomas’ result was the best second round by one of the first-day leaders. Rank and Colgate shot 75s, but still comfortably earned match-play berths at 141.

Hoey, who got the second seed, blistered Sand Creek on Tuesday for a 7-under 64, the low round of the championship. He fired a bogey-free round that left him with seven 3s and two 2s on his scorecard.

“I’m still kind of shocked right now,” said Hoey, who played on the U.S. Palmer Cup team last month in England. “I was just trying to make match play, and now I’m tied for first.”

Meth, a San Diego native, flourished in the Southern California-like weather to post his second consecutive 68. A two-time APL qualifier, Meth came to Kansas confident after tying for sixth two weeks ago in the Sahalee Players Championship.

“I got the lucky side of the draw,” Meth said of his Monday morning-Tuesday afternoon tee times. “You take the good with the bad every week. It all evens out eventually, but this week, we were on the good side of it, for sure.”

Ghim, an 18-year-old from Arlington Heights, Ill., came in a few groups behind Meth, undeterred by a bogey at No. 18 that left him with a 65. Ghim relished his place as co-medalist in the final APL.

“Whenever you get to say you’re a medalist at a USGA event, it means a lot,” Ghim said.

Notes — Florida State sophomore Josh Lee claimed the final match-play spot with a chip-in birdie on the par-4 12th, the third extra hole. Coastal Carolina signee Vinnie Murphy snagged a berth by holing out for eagle from 88 yards at the par-4 11th. … Sand Creek yielded a scoring average of 74.91 during stroke play. The 498-yard 16th, converted from a par 5 to a par 4 for the championship, played the toughest with a 4.522 stroke average. The par-4 18th was easiest at 3.920. … Sterling’s Michael Gellerman was the lone Kansan to advance to match play. He fired an even-par 71 Tuesday for a 145 total.

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