OAKMONT, Pa. – Just four players remain at the 121st U.S. Amateur after Friday afternoon’s quarterfinal action at Oakmont Country Club – Travis Vick, Austin Greaser, Nick Gabrelcik and James Piot.
But there are more than just four stories. Here are 18 moments, observations, numbers, facts and more as we enter the weekend in western Pennsylvania:
1. VICK'S CADDIE ASSIST: While many competitors opted for family members on the bag at Oakmont, Vick let his dad, Trey, enjoy the week as a spectator. Vick has a local caddie on the bag: Brice Delaney, whose family has strong Oakmont ties and who is entering his sophomore season on the Ohio University golf team.
Vick and Delaney were connected through Oakmont’s pro, Devin Gee, and Vick traveled to Oakmont to play a practice round and meet Delaney after the Sunnehanna Amateur in June.
“He’s been great,” Vick said of Delaney.
So great that Delaney may have helped save Vick’s championship on Friday afternoon in Vick’s quarterfinal match against Oklahoma State’s Brian Stark. Clinging to a 1-up lead on the par-4 18th hole, Vick fanned his tee ball into a right fairway bunker and then laid up into the rough.
“I was thinking we were going to extra holes,” Vick said.
But Stark made a big mistake, going long of the green from the fairway, and Vick knew the door was back open. With a back-right flag, he just couldn’t follow Stark into a similar spot.
“He gave me a gift by going long, the one spot you can’t go,” said Vick, who had 147 yards to the hole with his third shot. He initially had Delaney grab him a 50-degree, so he could hit the middle of the green, pin high, and try to make bogey at worse. But Delaney, remembering the 11th hole earlier in the match where Vick came up 20 yards short of his target with the same club, convinced his guy to club up.
“I said, ‘Hey, man, I cannot go long here because that guy’s long and that’s death,’” Vick recalled. “He said, ‘You know what, because of 11, I like hitting the pitching wedge,’ and I trusted him, and it ended up being a perfect number.”
Vick hit it right where he wanted and then cozied a 40-footer to gimme range. Stark left his chip on the fringe and then failed to chip in for par to give Vick the 1-up victory.
2. PITT'S ADOPTED SON: Gabrelcik may be a rising sophomore at North Florida, but he’s got Pittsburgh roots. Both of his parents were born in the area. His dad, Don, is from Pleasant Hills, and his mom, Annette, hails from West Mifflin.
As Gabrelcik explains, his parents, who also both attended college in Florida (at UF), met while his dad was working at a mall shoe store that his mom was shopping at.
“I don’t know how much I believe that, though,” Gabrelcik said.
What’s not hard to believe is the fact that Gabrelcik is a big Pittsburgh sports fan. He provided his thoughts on the Steelers’ quarterback situation after Friday’s 1-up quarterfinal victory over Davis Chatfield of Notre Dame. He also caught a Pirates game on Wednesday night, though they got shutout by St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright. (Gabrelcik, a night owl, stayed all nine innings.)
He’ll play Piot in Saturday afternoon’s second semifinal, which begins at 2:20 p.m. ET.
Plenty of time to grab lunch at Primanti Bros.
3. SHARP'S UNFORTUNATE BREAK: Trying to qualify for his second straight semifinal at this championship, Charlotte’s Matthew Sharpstene almost didn’t make it through nine holes of his quarterfinal match against Piot.
As he walked up the ninth fairway on a humid and hot afternoon, Sharpstene started to feel funny. He lost that hole, and then dropped the next one, too, to go 2 down. Despite getting one back on the 11th hole, Sharpstene felt like he was going to faint. The match was stopped for 15 minutes as Sharpstene received medical attention.
Not wanting to give up, Sharpstene loaded up on snacks and fluids and marched to the 12th tee.
“Sometimes there are more important things than golf, so I was just making sure he was doing alright,” Piot said. “It was good to see he was up and back at it.”
Upon returning, Sharpstene was clearly not himself. He three-putted to tie the par-5 12th hole, and then after winning No. 13 to square the match, he yanked his tee ball left and into the church pews at No. 15. He bogeyed that hole to lose his lead before dropping each of the next two holes to lose, 2 and 1.
There was good news, though: “I’m feeling much better,” Sharpstene said after the match.
4. EVERYBODY CALM DOWN! One of the bigger stories of the week so far has been players driving it down adjacent fairways in search of better angles and to avoid penal fairway bunkers. (Golf Twitter is still arguing about it.)
However, the popular strategy seemed to wane on Friday.
Even Vick, who has taken as many as five alternate lines off of tees this week, decided to play more conventionally with different pins and even softer greens and fairways. The only intentional foul ball he hit in his quarterfinal match was driving it in the right rough on the par-4 14th hole to get a better look at a left pin. The previous day he had driven it down No. 12 to access a right flag.
Guess he wants to avoid the 14th fairway, huh?
“Pretty much,” he said.
5. GREASE IS THE WORD: If you’re asking yourself where Greaser came from, you haven’t been paying attention.
Before besting Georgia Tech’s Ross Steelman in the quarters on Friday, the North Carolina junior had won three amateur titles since last summer, posted five top-10s for the Tar Heels last spring, led all U.S. Amateur qualifiers with a 127 total and a couple of weeks ago reached the semifinals of the Western Amateur.
It wasn’t without some good ol' fashioned hard work, though. North Carolina head coach Andrew DiBitetto calls Greaser a “hard-hat, lunch-pail kind of guy.”
“He just gets in the dirt and will outwork anybody,” DiBitetto said.
After struggling to build off of a second-place finish to begin his college career, Greaser took advantage of the pandemic cancellation of UNC’s season. With little else to do, he spent the rest of that spring and all summer practicing and playing golf, and when the ACC scrapped last fall’s slate of tournaments, Greaser practiced and played some more golf while taking online classes.
He’s still playing a lot of golf, but the level of play is a notch or two higher. Greaser is now one of the elite amateurs in the sport.
“My game’s in a different spot, my heads in a different spot and I’m trusting a lot of what I’m doing,” Greaser said. “I have a lot of confidence right now. ... I felt like I had played maybe the week of my life that week [at the Western].”
This week could change that sentiment.
6. THANKS, HAL: Vick isn’t just one of the top players in the college game. The Texas junior also has a pretty notable mentor: Hal Sutton.
While Sutton doesn’t serve as Vick’s regular swing coach, he does work a lot with Vick on his mental game. Occasionally, they will play nine holes together, though they won’t keep score. Instead, for example, Sutton will pull out all of the flags and have Vick play to the middle of greens to see what he’d shoot.
He also offered Vick a crucial tip recently.
“I haven’t been coming into the golf shot setting up square, and so I’ve been fighting myself,” Vick said. “He helped me fix that.”
Sutton has provided much more advice over the years, but Vick was hesitant to reveal all of his mentor’s secrets.
“I don’t want to share every tip,” Vick said with a smile.
7. THIS IS SPARTA! When Piot was a junior player, he had some interest from SEC and ACC schools in the recruiting process, but that buzz didn’t come very early like some of his peers, some of whom were getting offers while still in middle school.
“I was always kind of that guy who was good but a little on the bubble for those schools,” Piot said.
So, when home-state Michigan State, where his brother Glenn played, came calling, Piot didn’t really hesitate. He kicked off his career in East Lansing as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and this past season, as a senior, he notched five top-5 finishes, including one win.
Piot’s confidence took another leap this summer, as he not only won the GAM Championship but also advanced to the Round of 16 at the Western Amateur.
“That was the biggest thing for my confidence,” Piot said of his Western performance. “I’ve just had to convince myself that, you know, you’re good enough to play here and you belong here.”
Piot’s chip on his shoulder has gotten decidedly smaller, especially this week as he’s made a run through the bracket at Oakmont.
“This is important to him,” Michigan State assistant Dan Ellis said. “He’s always judged himself how he’s doing against his peers. To have some success up here … it’s validating for him.”
8. SNEAKY-GOOD SEMIFINALS: There are no top-25 players left at Oakmont – that’s what happens when the top three in the world bow out before match play. But there also aren’t any semifinalists ranked worse than 86th. Their ranks: Gabrelcik (28), Vick (45), Greaser (82), Piot (86)
9. SOAK-MONT: During last weekend’s practice round, many competitors contended that Oakmont was the hardest course they’ve ever played. Then on Monday, the iconic layout really showed its teeth by keeping from match play all but three players out of 78 who drew Oakmont in the first day’s afternoon wave.
However, days of heavy rain have taken the bite out of Oakmont.
“It felt like if you got a shot hole high in the beginning of the week it was miracle just because you judged the distance and the bounce correctly,” Piot said. “Now, you can just land shots on the flag.”
Oh, and did we mention it poured again Friday night?
10. GREASED LIGHTING: How hot has Greaser been this week? Consider this: He has trailed for just three holes in his four matches and has yet to play the 18th hole.
11. IT'S ALL RELATIVE: Gabrelcik isn’t the only semifinalist with a large support system at Oakmont this week. Greaser, from Vandalia, Ohio, about four hours away, has just over a dozen family and friends in attendance.
That group includes his parents, Michael and Lisa, and his twin brother, Byron, plus a few best friends from high school, his girlfriend, a mix of uncles, aunts and cousins.
“And a couple of others that I just met this week,” Greaser said.
What a first impression.
12. COACH CAN PLAY: Piot not only has a familiar face on the bag, but he also has a caddie with USGA match-play experience.
Michigan State assistant coach Dan Ellis has played in five USGA championships and advanced to the Round of 16 two years ago at the U.S. Mid-Amateur before losing to eventual champion Lukas Michel.
“The USGA events are like, they’re the thing, right?” Ellis said. “It’s always been a passion of mine, trying to play in USGA events. … It’s fun to see success in this brutally difficult format.”
Ellis’ biggest advice for the long week: “He always reminds me to just keep rotating,” Piot said, “which is kind of my thing at the end of the day when the legs go.”
13. AFTER YOU...: The scrappy Chatfield, a graduate senior who stands just 5-foot-5, is one of the shorter hitters among elite amateurs, so Gabrelcik found himself hitting his approach shots second on every hole. He preferred it that way, too.
“I think it’s an advantage,” Gabrelcik said, “... because you get to see where he is after his second shot.”
He then offered up this example: On the par-4 fifth hole, Chatfield missed the green, so Gabrelcik changed his strategy, opting for one less club to make sure he hit the middle of the green. He won the hole to go 2 up, and though Chatfield kept fighting, battling back from 3 down after 10 holes to square the match four holes later, Gabrelcik was able to pull off the narrow 1-up victory.
14. GO DJ: According to DiBitetto, Greaser has always had swag.
“The first time seeing him in recruiting, it’s kind of what stood out, the way he strutted down the fairway,” DiBitetto said. “He’s always reminded me of a mini-DJ.”
Once Greaser arrived in Chapel Hill, DiBitetto learned his comp was no coincidence. Greaser’s favorite player: Dustin Johnson.
15. STRAIGHT OUTTA EGYPT: Piot earned his spot in this week’s field by finishing second and grabbing one of two tickets out of last month’s qualifier at Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada, Michigan.
Why is that notable? It’s because another Michigan kid, Nick Carlson, qualified for the 2016 U.S. Amateur at the same course. Carlson, of course, went on to reach the semifinals at Oakland Hills before losing to eventual champion Curtis Luck.
Piot is friends with Carlson, who caddied for another buddy at Egypt Valley last month. When Piot qualified, Carlson told him, “Some great things happen out of this site.”
Now, Piot finds himself in a semifinal of his own.
“It’s kind of funny how things work out,” Piot said.
16. CHEF AUSTIN? When Greaser moved away for college two years ago, the thing he missed the most? “Mom’s not around to fix dinner anymore and have it ready when you get home from the course,” he said.
Asked for his favorite dishes, Greaser listed: Fried breaded chicken, fried potatoes and, of course, mom's famous corn pudding. Since he’s been at school, though, Greaser’s culinary experience has taken a nose-dive. His go-to now: Frozen chicken tenders.
“Pop them in the oven, 8 minutes, 450 [degrees], a little BBQ sauce,” he describes. “Good stuff.”
We'll take his word for it and have some corn pudding.
17. NO QUALIFYING NEEDED: Gabrelcik won three of his first six college starts last spring en route to earning the Phil Mickelson Award as freshman of the year. While collecting trophies was the goal, it wasn’t the only objective.
After failing to qualify for U.S. Amateurs in 2018 and 2019, and then missing out on being exempt for 2020 by just a few world-ranking spots, Gabrelcik was determined to earn his way to Oakmont without having to qualify. Following his second victory, at the General Hackler, Gabrelcik sat down with his coach, Scott Schroeder, and crunched the numbers.
“You have a shot,” Schroeder told his guy. Gabrelcik just needed to play solidly and he’d finished inside the top 50 in WAGR by the cutoff date in late June.
“I want to say winning college events was the main goal, but not playing bad to where we didn’t move up was the actual goal,” Gabrelcik admitted. “It worked to plan.”
Gabrelcik made it comfortably, and he’s now ranked No. 28 in the world. Vick, No. 45 at the moment, also earned exempt status, though he made it at the last minute, finishing third at the Sunnehanna Amateur the week before invites were handed out.
18. FUN WITH SEEDINGS: Vick, the fourth seed, is the first top-four seed to reach the semifinals since his Texas teammate Cole Hammer did so as the No. 2 seed in 2018 at Pebble Beach. Gabrelcik, at No. 35, was the worst seed in the quarterfinals this year. It’s the first time since 2004 that no player seeded outside the top 35 seeds advanced to the final eight.