OAKMONT, Pa. – Nick Grabelcik played 38 holes to win three matches Friday, sending the North Florida sophomore into the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont.
Coming off a superb freshman year that included three wins and a spot in the Palmer Cup, Grabelcik is one match away from an exemption to the Masters and U.S. Open.
It wasn’t easy on a sweltering day that at least was free of storm delays and allowed the U.S. Amateur to get back on rack.
Grabelcik needed one hole to complete a 2-and-1 victory over former U.S. Junior Amateur champion Michael Thorbjornsen. He had to go 19 holes against Hugo Townsend of Sweden, beating him with a wedge that spun to 3 feet on No. 10 for birdie.
And then after leading the entire match, Grabelcik lost two straight holes and was tied with Davis Chatfield with four holes to play. Grabelcik hit 9-iron to 5 feet for a conceded birdie on the 15th and halved the last three holes – twice with bogey – for a 1-up victory.
That puts him in the semifinals against James Piot of Michigan State, who beat Matthew Sharpstene, 3 and 1.
“I’ve had high expectations coming into this week and I’m glad that things are going well,” Grabelcik said. “Just the great success in my freshman year definitely is helping roll over this week, giving me more experience than most first-time appearances may have.”
Florida born and raised, Grabelcik’s parents grew up in the Pittsburgh area and his play has kept them in town for an extended trip back home.
The other semifinal matches features Travis Vick, who is carrying the flag for the Texas Longhorns, against Austin Greaser, the only player who has yet to face the 18th hole at Oakmont in match play.
Greaser has gone his last 38 holes without trailing.
Vick had to work harder than he imagined in a match against Brian Stark that was starting to get sloppy after a long, hot day of double matches.
Vick seized control with a 10-foot birdie putt that broke sharply to the left on No. 10 for a 2-up lead. Three of the next four holes were won with pars and Vick was 3 up and appeared to deliver the decisive shot on the 15th.
He hit the lip for a fairway bunker, the ball landing in the fairway. He hit his third shot to 10 feet and holed that for a par to stay 3 up with three holes to play.
Vick, who plays at Oklahoma State, hit a tee shot into 4 feet for a conceded birdie on the 16th. He hit a marvelous bunker shot on the reachable par-4 17th for another conceded birdie to close the gap to 1 hole. And then Vick found a fairway bunker off the 18th tee and laid up in the rough with Stark in the middle of the fairway.
“I was thinking we’re going extra holes,” Vick said. “He piped a drive. He came off two birdies in a row. I figured he found a little something, and he gave me a gift.”
With a back right pin on a green that slopes hard from left to right, Start went left of the flag and over the green. He let the club fall from his hands and stared at it on the ground, realizing the opportunity lost.
Vick hit pitching wedge to about 40 feet left of the flag and hit a beautiful lag for his bogey. Stark’s only hope was to land it in the collar and have it trickle onto the green. He came up short, and his next chip for par to extend the match never had a chance.
Vick, a three-sport star in Houston, is used to tough battles. The Longhorns are stacked with Cole Hammer and Pierceson Coody, who both played in the Walker Cup. Neither made it out of qualifying, though Vick is leading the way.
“Qualifying (at Texas) is super intense with how stacked our team is,” Vick said. “If you’re not throwing up decent numbers, you’re more than likely sitting on the bench. I like that a lot. I like how when you wake up every day, you’ve got to play good golf.”
The mentality he attributes to one of his mentors, former U.S. Amateur champion Hal Sutton, with whom he works at Champions Golf Club in Houston.
The finalists earn spots in the Masters and U.S. Open, and the winner of the U.S. Amateur gets in The Open. The semifinals are Saturday afternoon, with the 36-hole final Sunday.