Oakland Hills 'a nightmare' for U.S. Amateur's Armstrong

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Dawson Armstrong tees off on the ninth hole on the South Course Tuesday.

Bloomfield Township – It's safe to say, Dawson Armstrong's had more fun than he did in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

He warmed up in nasty weather, then played his first nine holes in crud.

"Literally, the entire range session was just — not pouring down rain, but it was that steady, annoying rain right in your face," Armstrong said. "It was one of the most frustrating warmup sessions I've ever had when it comes to conditions.

"And then you get out on the course, and it's the same thing for an hour.

"Literally saw every single condition except for what the afternoon wave is going to get, and that's sunny and a slight breeze."

Armstrong, a 20-year-old from Brentwood, Tennessee and plays collegiately at Lipscomb in Nashville, survived the elements. After opening with a 6-under 64 on the easier North Course at Oakland Hills on Monday, he grinded to an even-par 70 on the South Course.

The South Course is tougher, once earning the nickname, "The Monster," from Ben Hogan, after his win here in the 1951 U.S. Open.

Hogan said he brought "The Monster" to its knees.

Armstrong, by comparison, didn't take down "The Monster." But he did enough to advance to the Round of 64 match-play portion of the tournament, which starts Wednesday. Armstrong and Texas' Gavin Hall, 21, finished one off stroke-play medalist honors, won by Duke's Alex Smalley, 19, who was at 7 under following a 2-under 68 on the South Course on Tuesday afternoon. Smalley will be the No. 1 seed in match play.

"Is this course really called, 'The Monster'?" Armstrong said. "It's a nightmare, that's what it is.

"No, it's a lot of fun. It's either a dream come true or a nightmare, for real. You can either have a great round or you can come out of here shooting 76 and feel really good about yourself."

Armstrong opened his round with a birdie on No. 10, then reeled off eight consecutive pars to make the turn at 1-under 34.

That included a great par at the par-3 17th hole, which was playing, technically, 235 yards.

That didn't account for the wind.

"I hit a 3-wood 30 yards short of the green, so that was a lot of fun," Armstrong quipped. "Luckily, I made par."

Armstrong then made birdie at Nos. 2 and 4, getting to 9 under.

Then, "The Monster" slapped him upside the face, as he made bogey on three of the final five holes on the round — all on par 4s measuring 466, 440 and 470 yards.

It mattered little in the end, as he always was heading to match play.

The cut came in at 2 over, and there will be a playoff for the final match-play spots. The playoff on the North Course starts at 8 a.m. Wednesday, with match play starting around 9 a.m. on the South Course. The sudden-death playoff will start on No. 10, and move to Nos. 11, 17 and 18, and repeat until the bracket is set.

Armstrong has plenty of match-play experience, winning the 2015 Western Amateur in thrilling fashion, with an eagle on the 20th hole.

"I'm confident in myself," said Armstrong, who's using his host for the week — an Oakland Hills member — as his caddie, a huge help on these tricky greens.

"I've just always had the positive mind set of, 'Man, I love match play.' Hopefully that positive mind set will convert to good play."