PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Norway’s Viktor Hovland had such an easy time in the quarterfinals and round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur that he didn’t even need to play the 13th hole.
When he got pushed a bit in the semifinals, Hovland responded.
Hovland birdied six of seven holes he played on the back nine Saturday to advance to the U.S. Amateur final at Pebble Beach, where he will take on UCLA sophomore Devon Bling.
“I hadn’t played 13 and 14 and 15 in a few days, but I knew what to do,” Hovland said. “It wasn’t like I was taken off guard. I knew that most likely I was going to do that. I just stuck to my game plan, just let it all happen.”
Hovland, a junior at Oklahoma State, became the first player in 40 years to win consecutive matches at the U.S. Amateur by at least seven holes when he beat Kristoffer Reitan and Austin Squires 7 and 6 in the previous two rounds.
But Texas teen Cole Hammer stayed close throughout before falling 3 and 2 on a foggy morning at Pebble Beach that was conducive to low scores thanks to softer than usual greens.
Hammer evened the match with a birdie on the par-4 11th hole before Hovland took over. He responded with five straight birdies to become the first golfer from Norway to advance to the U.S. Amateur final.
“I just tried to do what I do when I practice,” Hovland said. “I’ve always kind of been that way. When there’s pressure on the line and I need to hit a good shot, I tend to perform better than I do if I’m just slapping balls on the range. But I just try to stick to my game plan and execute the shots that I knew I could, and the ball just came out the way I wanted it to.”
Hammer, the 18-year-old from Houston who is about to start his college career at Texas, had won 12 of his past 13 individual matches. But he was hurt by a drive into the bunker on the par-4 15th hole.
“I’m not mad about the way I played, I’m just disappointed that I kind of ran into a buzz saw,” Hammer said.
Bling, of Ridgecrest, was stretched to the 18th hole for the fourth straight match before beating Stanford senior Isaiah Salinda of South San Francisco 1 up in an all-California matchup.
Bling had a one-hole lead through the front nine before the match turned in a stretch of good shot-making on the back nine. Bling birdied No. 12 to take a two-hole lead before Salinda answered.
Bling responded with another birdie at the par-5 14th to go back up two and held on from there. Salinda barely missed a birdie putt on the par-5 18th and Bling two-putted for par and the win.
“I love feeling the pressure,” Bling said. “I like feeling the pressure. I like being nervous out there and knowing that I’ve got to hit a good shot here, and I’ve got to make this putt. I love that feeling. I think it helps me focus a little bit more.”
By advancing to the final, Hovland and Bling qualified for next year’s Masters and the U.S. Open, which also will be played at Pebble Beach.
That prize was evident as soon as the golfers started their rounds, with the U.S. Open trophy displayed near the first tee.
“I took a long look at it just to soak it in a little bit because of just being that close to it,” Bling said.
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