PARAMUS, N.J. — For the record, Nicholas Gross did shave before the start of match play.
He’s good for the rest of the week.
With a 4-and-3 win over Luke Potter on Thursday at Ridgewood Country Club, the 15-year-old high school junior became the youngest player to advance to the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals since 2007.
Clearly, he’s good enough to eat lunch with the big kids.
“I mean, every tournament I play, I have a little bit of anxiety because I want to play well,” said Gross, who attends Downingtown (Pennsylvania) West High School. “Not to the point where I’m like shaking or anything, but I want to play well. At least here I feel like I’m playing with house money because I’m a 15-year-old kid, who, if I lose, I’m a 15-year-old kid and I’m playing these 20-, 25-, 30-year-olds who are great players. That’s kind of freed me up, and I’ve gone out in all my matches and played within myself because I know even though I’m 15, I have the game to compete with anybody.”
PGA Tour winner C.T. Pan made the quarters 15 years ago, becoming the youngest to win a Round of 16 match since the immortal Bobby Jones in 1916.
“To have something that puts my name next to those two is really special and something I’ll remember forever,” Gross said.
He’s clearly done a lot of homework to get this far.
U.S. Amateur: Scoring
“I think he just has prepared for such a long time,” said Rob Coyne, his caddie and high school coach. “He’s played in tournaments since he was probably 10 years old. He’s been grinding and playing up against the older kids. That helps, a lot. He also has great poise and works really hard on his game. This is what comes from all that. It’s just phenomenal stuff for a 15-year-old kid.”
Potter is an 18-year-old who plays at Arizona State. The match was tied after nine, but Gross withstood the stress, moved on quickly from the occasional unlucky bounce and won four of the next five hole with two pars and two birdies.
“We were kind of just battling it out for about seven, eight holes,” he said. “On the back nine, I was hitting good shots all day and was just a little off with my lines, missing some short-sided, I just started hitting greens and putting the pressure o. I thought I really put on enough pressure to where he felt like he had to do something special. It worked out, obviously. I won four holes on the back nine, four out of the six we played. It was great.”
Not bad for a kid who came here with no expectations and had to survive a playoff to advance to match play.
“He three-putted the 36th hole of stroke play and I’ve never seen him so down,” Coyne said. “Now he’s up here, but that’s golf.”
There’s a comfort level at Ridgewood that is helping Gross, who beat Chris Francoeur 3-and-2 in the Round of 32 before lunch on Thursday.
“You know, I think I credit Northeast golf,” he said. “I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania, and it’s just like this, Northeast style. So, I feel really comfortable here. The sight lines, how you have to play, how you have to get around the golf course. Even my caddie, he’s from right where I live. He’s my high school coach. So we’re both on the same page at all times. I think it’s just a comfort level that’s helped me around here.”
The old man
In every other tournament, Stewart Hagestad relatively young. Not here. The 31-year-old from Newport, California is making a run in his 26th USGA championship. He’s won the U.S. Mid-Am twice and is playing in the quarterfinals here for the second time after dispatching Benjamin James 6 and 4 in the Round of 32 and Hayden Hopewell 2 and 1 in the Round of 16.
Stewart Hagestad watches his drive on hole 12 during the round of 16 at the 2022 U.S. Amateur at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey. (Photo: Grant Halverson/USGA)
“This is great, really great,” said Hagestad, who’s spent a fair amount of time competing in the region and was named Metropolitan Golf Association Player of the Year in 2016. “I’m a little tired, but yeah, feels great. I’m excited to be playing golf tomorrow.
“None of the matches are easy. … All the kids are good.”
Hagestad will face Sam Bennett, a 22-year-old who plays at Texas A&M, on Friday.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’ll talk very much, but I respect the hell out of him,” the financial analyst said. “He’s really, really good. I hope that’s mutual.”
U.S. Amateur quarterfinals
No. 16 Dylan Menante (Carlsbad, California) vs. No. 56 Nicholas Gross (Downingtown, Pennsylvania), 9:30 a.m. ET
No. 36 Sam Bennett (Madisonville, Texas) vs. No. 21 Stewart Hagestad (Newport Beach, California), 9:45 a.m. ET
No. 34 Ben Carr (Columbus, Georgia) vs. No. 26 Alex Price (Hillsboro, Virginia), 10 a.m. ET
No. 51 Shea Lague (Jamul, California) vs. No. 59 Derek Hitchner (Minneapolis), 10:15 am. ET