Williamstown, MA- On Monday, July 16, Taconic Golf Club had the honor of hosting regional qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Amateur Championship. After some players withdrew and others never showed, the field was rounded out at 65 golfers competing for three spots at the Championship proper, which will be held at historic Pebble Beach Golf Club in early August. Qualifying for the U.S. Amateur gives the players a taste of the week-long grind that the tournament is famous for. Thirty-six holes in the heat of July would separate three golfers from the rest, two of them members of the Williams College men's golf team, Sam Goldenring '20 and Will Kannegieser '20.
Kannegieser was the best golfer on the day, firing a 65 (-6) in the afternoon after a pedestrian round of 72 in the morning. Goldenring likewise improved in the afternoon, posting a 68 in the afternoon after an even-par round of 71 in the morning session.
The third qualifier out of Williamstown was Matthew Paradis of Hooksett, NH, whose afternoon round of 74 was just barely good enough after a smooth 69 on his first 18 holes. Recent Trinity College grad Nate Choukas stumbled over his last few holes and eventually fell one shot short of qualifying outright, though his afternoon 69 secured him the first alternate position.
The field included two more Ephs, Grant Raffel and Jack Coyne, returning to Williamstown to try their hand at a course they are comfortable with. Unfortunately, the two struggled during the morning session to the point where they would have had to pull off the spectacular to advance to Pebble. Both recovered with solid afternoon rounds of 77 and 74 respectively.
Goldenring and Kannegieser were naturally playing with an advantage at Taconic, the 6,800 yard par-71 track that the players call home during the college season. The extensive game planning required when playing a new course was not necessary for the Ephs, leaving them free to play as they would any other round.
Both players have had this event circled on their calendars for some time, targeting it as a unique opportunity to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, a tournament whose list of past champions reads like a walk through golf's hall of fame. Both players believed they had as good a shot as anyone, perhaps even better considering their own track records at Taconic. Both have won collegiate events at Taconic, and both have finished in red figures several times in tournaments and practice rounds. The heightened level of competition meant that two rounds around par would be a must, and both delivered, finishing as the only two players under par in the field of 65.
Taconic as a course is a tale of two nines. The front offers several birdie opportunities, chief among them the 480 yard par-5 opening hole that plays as the easiest hole on the course. The back, on the other hand, is a strap-yourself-in and hang on tight roller coaster, where a big score lurks around every corner. Goldenring and Kannegieser both kept big numbers off the card during the morning session, but failed to get really cooking. Goldenring played the par-5s at +1 and only made two birdies during his first round 71. Kannegieser was -1 after making birdie on the par-5 10th, but made bogeys on 14 and 17 coming in to finish with 72. Even though both players knew they could have done better, they put themselves in a great spot, only two and three shots off the lead respectively.
Neither player held anything back in the afternoon session. Starting on the 10th hole and facing the back nine first, the pair knew that a solid start could jumpstart them into the gettable front nine. Goldenring made three birdies (10, 12, and 16), one offset by a bogey on 13, to turn in 34.
Kannegieser failed to birdie the 10th, but kept a clean card that included birdies on 14, 15, and 18 to turn in 33. At that point the ball was rolling both figuratively and literally. Goldenring birdied holes 1 and 2 and held steady after that, eventually making par on six of his last seven holes for his 68.
Goldenring finished before Kannegieser, and at the time was the leader in the clubhouse with a 36-hole score of -3. He anxiously waited as more and more scorecards were signed and rounds made official. At the end of the day, the only player who would pass him on the leaderboard was his own teammate.
Kannegieser made an eagle 3 on the 1st hole to begin his final nine holes, though he backed it up with a bogey on 2. Back-to-back birdies on 4 and 5 brought him back to -6 thru 14, but a bogey on 7 again swung the momentum in the other direction. Kannegieser capped off his 65 by sticking it to five feet on the downhill par-3 ninth, pumping his fist as he brushed in the birdie on his final hole of the day.
Williams head coach Josh Hillman, who is also the head professional at Taconic, was just as excited as his players after watching them throughout the day. He said following the round, "It is really amazing to see two Williams College players qualify for the US Amateur, an event that traditionally lends itself to DI players. Will and Sam have the game to compete and I expect them to do quite well out west. They are Division I level players who chose to put academics over athletics. All the guys on the team work hard in the classroom and on the golf course. This just shows they can play with anyone!"
The rising juniors now have another event to put on their summer schedules, the United States Amateur Championship. Play starts on Monday, August 13 with stroke play qualifying for the match play rounds later that week.