The Western Amateur is really two tournaments. The first is the actual competition, which separates the wheat from the chaff by having the top amateurs in the game battle it out over five hot, humid Midwestern days. A second, more figurative tournament takes place in which players can establish themselves as future stars with both personality and style of play.
Last Friday, I made my way to Glen View Club to watch the top 16 players at this year’s Western Amateur, the ones who qualified for match play, and see who stood out. Among the match play participants were Walker Cupper Ricky Castillo, Southern Amateur champion Maxwell Moldovan, defending Western Amateur champion Pierceson Coody, three-time All-SEC player Trent Phillips, 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen, and a trio of elite juniors in Luke Potter, Gordon Sargent, and David Ford.
Even amid all this talent, a few players made big impressions on me.
Michael Thorbjornsen is special. He broke out with his 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur victory and went on to make the cut at the 2019 U.S. Open, but he’s taken his game to a different level this summer. Facing top-notch competition over the past month, Thorbjornsen went 9-0 in match play to win the Massachusetts and Western amateur championships. At both tournaments, he tied or broke course records during stroke-play rounds, and he set an unofficial course record at Brae Burn CC during the final match of the Massachusetts Amateur. His final victim at the Mass Am final was 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale, who said of Thorbjornsen, “He’s a world-beater. He’s incredible…. He has a bright future if he keeps going at this pace.”
Parziale’s words were on my mind as I watched Thorbjornsen take down Ricky Castillo in the quarterfinals of the Western Am. Castillo is no lightweight: he is No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, and he went undefeated at the 2021 Walker Cup. But Thorbjornsen was clearly the better player on Friday.
Seeing “Thor” in person for the first time really gave me an appreciation for what this kid might become. His golf swing is impeccable, and he seems able to get up and down from anywhere. He has immense power, elevating long irons with ease. Above all, his temperament is really steady for a 19-year-old. He has a quiet, Dustin Johnson-like swagger that will likely draw in fans and intimidate competitors for years to come.
Michael Thorbjornsen during the Western Amateur final. Photo Credit: Western Golf Association
The pleasant surprises
I was able to watch him for only a few holes, but 18-year-old Gordon Sargent struck me as a player with something to prove. The Vanderbilt commit and No. 3 player in the AJGA rankings carried his bag the whole week and seemed unfazed by the most difficult shots. He ultimately came up short to Thorbjornsen in the final match, but look for Sargent to make noise when he hits the collegiate ranks this fall.
Austin Greaser didn’t do anything flashy during match play, but his steadiness and rock-solid golf swing are impressive. He really sits down into his backswing before quickly clearing his left side and letting his power take over. A rising junior at the University of North Carolina, Greaser knocked off Georgia’s Trent Phillips and Oklahoma State’s Brian Stark before running into the Thorbjornsen buzzsaw. He may not yet have the fully rounded game of a Ricky Castillo or Pierceson Coody, but Greaser has as promising a golf swing as any of them.
Over the past two weeks, Luke Potter reached the semifinals of both the U.S. Junior Amateur and Western Amateur. He didn’t close the deal at either tournament, but this Arizona State verbal commit is on the rise and appears to have high expectations for himself. He’s an interesting guy to watch: it never seems like he’s happy on the golf course. Granted, he’s just 17 years old and may change his demeanor as he gains experience. Clearly, though, Luke Potter believes in his abilities and is tough on himself.
All three players lost their matches on Friday morning, but UCF’s Johnny Travale, Tar Heel-to-be David Ford, and Oklahoma State’s Leo Oyo all caught my eye. At 6’4”, Oyo is an imposing figure with jaw-dropping power. Oyo seems to take an easy-going approach to the game, as do Travale and Ford.
A lasting impression can be hard to come by on the golf course. Not only did these guys prove their worth by qualifying for match play at the Western Amateur, but their auras, attitudes, and confidence gave fans at Glen View Club something to latch onto.
Next week, the men’s amateur golf season culminates with the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont Country Club on August 9-15. Michael Thorbjornsen will be there, as will Castillo, Travale, Potter, and Greaser. Under a national spotlight, don’t be surprised if any one of these guys makes a deep run and establishes himself as golf’s next big amateur name.