The 120th U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes delivered for roughly the 120th consecutive time an A+ event.

Untethered from the traditional golf fanfare of superstars, CBS, and commercials, the weeklong championship delivered everything you could ask for from an event.

The location was staggering. Bandon Dunes, already a mecca for the sickest of serious golfers, emerges from its week in primetime with a somehow improved reputation. Cut along the Oregon coast, the course was the kind of challenge that the PGA Tour far too often shies away from. The course was firm, offered opportunities for low scores, but also had more than enough teeth where it counted. The USGA or PGA would be wise to consider the venue for a major.

The presentation was maybe even better. Aside from the final round coverage, which averaged one Frank Strafaci anecdote for every Tyler Strafaci shot, Golf Channel let the golf do the talking. 

And there was, of course, the format. The U.S. Amateur is a grind unlike anything else in golf. 312 players (just 264 in the COVID-19-affected 2020 iteration) play two rounds of stroke play to cut the field to a 64-man bracket. To go from 64 to 1, the tournament switches to match play, culminating with a 36-hole final on Sunday.

The combination of the intensity match play provides and the occasionally scratchy level of play of amateurs leads to incredible drama. Bandon Dunes was the site of:

  • A caddie testing the sand conditions of a bunker with his hand, getting his player eliminated on the 18th hole.
  • Aman Gupta winning four out of five holes to pull his semifinal match to all square on 18 before blading two approach shots into the lip of his fairway bunker and plaintively asking his caddie “WHAT IS GOING ON?” To answer your question, you imploded, Aman.
  • Tyler Strafaci winning the championship by getting up and down from 314 yards on hole 32 and flagging a long iron second shot on a par 5 on hole 36 on either side of making a bogey and what could have been a snowman on holes 34 and 35.
  • Ollie Osborne, who lost that championship match to Strafaci, entering hole 31 just one down, making four birdies on the final six holes and still losing one down.

The U.S. Women’s Amateur, too, delivered on drama in spades, perhaps even more so than the men. Rose Zhang and Gabriela Ruffels couldn’t settle their match in 36 holes and instead needed 38 for Zhang to knock of Ruffels, ending the hope for a back-to-back championship for the USC senior.

Where is the deserved hype? 

Every year there isn’t a Ryder Cup, the U.S. Amateur championships are the best events on the calendar. But they don’t have the breakthrough pomp that the established stops on the PGA Tour do. The average golf fan knows about The Player’s Championship and the 17th island green. They probably do not know that Tiger Woods won a U.S. Amateur on that very course.

The gospel of the amateurs needs to be spread.

Fox, which probably does the best telecast of any network, no longer broadcasts the U.S. Open. Could the company clear space on its national network for the U.S. Amateur each summer? It would take a leap of faith to be sure, but the rewards could be huge.

And if the U.S. Amateur is doomed to feed the golf hipster and no one else, that could be to the professional golf world’s advantage.

Match-play remains a singularly delicious event in the world of golf. You don’t get Rory McIlroy yelling “I can’t hear you!” at the top of his lungs in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. And yet only one PGA Tour-sanctioned event uses match play and, if we’re being honest, it’s a snooze year over year. There are better ways to use the format than just subbing it in a random week. 

So since you asked

I’ve got some ideas.

  1. A co-sanctioned LPGA/PGA Tour event should exist already. Are there potential foibles with the effect on the world ranking systems? Yes. Is it worth finding a way to get over that hump? No question. Tennis’s Hopman Cup set a great template. Pair PGA and LPGA players from the same home country and have them play an alternate shot and best-ball matches against other teams to find a winner. It raises the profile of the LPGA stars while providing a genuinely competitive atmosphere.
  2. Change the Olympics to look like the NCAA Championships. Similar to the U.S. Amateur, the NCAA Tournament for golf features days of stroke play before cutting the field down to the top eight teams for a match-play bracket. Collegiate stroke play is great. Each team plays six golfers but only count the best five rounds each day. Why the Olympics chose to have golf be a strictly individual event instead of a hybrid event where the individual medal could be awarded in the stroke play format and the team medal could be given for match play is an all-time dumb sports decision. Imagine a Spanish team that has Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia. Fireworks.
  3. Return the PGA Championship to a match play event. The issue with the existing WGC match play tournament is that it lacks juice. There isn’t enough there to really get the competitive juices flowing. Once upon a time, the PGA Championship was a match-play major. Bringing that back would not only provide high drama (imagine, say, Bryson Dechambeau and Brooks Koepka being all square through 16), it would help the PGA Championship actually set itself apart, something it needs desperately.

Golf has a perfect event sitting too far on the peripheries of the sport. If it can’t find a way to center the U.S. Amateur where it belongs, it needs to learn from its lessons. Until it does, I’ll be content to chew through my fingernails every August watching 19-year-olds go for broke. I won’t be alone.

Ben Goren

Ben Goren is a contributing writer for Stick and Hack and has been addicted to the game of golf for the past 15 years and isn’t interested in finding a cure. He’s also offering one kidney in exchange for a Cypress Point tee time (serious inquiries only).