CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Justin Thomas righted himself after nearly falling out of contention in stroke-play qualifying, and he carried his momentum into the first round of match play Wednesday at the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills.
The 19-year-old Thomas, a member of the golf team at the University of Alabama, beat Barry Dyche of Charlotte, N.C., 3 and 1 to advance to the round of 32.
"It was a well-fought match, but this is the U.S. Amateur and there are no easy matches," said Thomas, whose Alabama teammate, Bobby Wyatt, entered match play as the top seed in the 64-player field after tying the tournament record by shooting a 9-under 132 in the two-day, 36-hole qualifying rounds.
The 20-year-old Wyatt followed up his medal-winning qualifying effort with a 4-and-2 victory over Taylor Hancock of Clearwater, Fla.
"I didn't play my best today, but I played well enough. I advanced," said Wyatt, who will face Australian Matthew Stieger, a 7-and-5 winner over Jade Scott of Daingerfield, Texas.
In other matches, third-seeded Pan Cheng-Tsung of Taiwan beat Evan Bowser of Dearborn, Mich., 4 and 3. Bowser, at 17, was the youngest player to qualify for match play.
"Things are going pretty well," said Pan, who plays at the University of Washington. "I drove well. I putted well. I just feel good. You know, I feel like I can beat anyone out here, especially with the performance I had during stroke play."
The oldest player still in it, 55-year-old physician Douglas Hanzel of Savannah, Ga., was a 3-and-2 winner over 34-year-old Andrew Biggadike of Ridgewood, N.J.
Jordan Spieth of Dallas, third in the world amateur rankings, lost his opening match to Belgium's Thomas Peters, who finished 1 up.
Thomas, seeded 16th, said he was brimming with confidence after managing to turn his play around midway through the final round of stroke play.
"I was 8 over through 10 holes in my round (Tuesday) and I was 3 over for the tournament and looking like I wasn't going to make the cut," Thomas said. "But I finished 5 under on my last seven holes, and that was a huge mental boost for me. It just kind of gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I could do that out there. I feel good about my game right now."
Thomas has certainly shown the ability to go far in the tournament. He shot a 5-under 65 on the first day of qualifying at the CommonGround course and followed with a 3-over 74 at Cherry Hills on Tuesday.
"I feel like I can make a really good run at this. I mean, anybody can," Thomas said. "Whatever is meant to be is going to happen. Hopefully, it involves me holding the trophy at the end of the week, but really that stuff is a total tossup and anybody's guess."
Thomas will face Max Homa of Valencia, Calif., on Thursday. The two met this year when Homa, who plays for the University of California, beat Thomas in a match at the NCAA Division I tournament, though Cal lost to Alabama in the overall semifinal match.
The 17th-seeded Homa, playing in the amateur for the third year in a row, got past Canadian Corey Conners 5 and 4 to set up the rematch with his college rival.
Homa said his past experience in the amateur — he didn't make the match-play cut last year but reached the quarterfinals the year before — has helped him deal with the win-or-go home aspect of match play.
"Last night, I felt really calm knowing that I had made it pretty far two years ago, and I feel like I'm a much better player now," Homa said. "I just felt confident that if I went out and played solid and played my game, it should be at least good enough to give me a chance, and at the end of the day, and that's all you want."
Homa also has dedicated his play in the amateur to childhood friend David Stroud, also of Valencia, Calif., who died last year at age 20 following a three-year battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
"He was a good friend of mine," Homa said about Stroud, whom he had known since they were 8-year-old teammates on a flag football team. "The way he went through that whole experience makes you appreciate a lot of things and see what resiliency really is, so I'd just like to always remember that. I just want to play well, to make him proud."
On his hat, he said he has written a reminder: "Stroud Strong." That, he said, sums up the approach he's taking to his play.