Minnesota Golf Association

Bai, Batta and Lehman Qualify for U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach

July 9, 2018

By Nick Hunter
  MORTON, Minn. – After failing to qualify for a handful of USGA events during the past few seasons, Florida’s Zheng Kai Bai claimed a spot in the 2018 U.S. Amateur Championship at one of golf’s most treasured courses, shooting 4-under par 140 to earn medalist honors Monday at Dacotah Ridge Golf Club.
Bai was one of 70 golfers in Monday’s field, hoping to claim one of three spots to this year’s national championship, which will be played August 13-19 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif.
“Pebble Beach is a very good course—it should be a fun week and I’m looking forward to it,” Bai said of advancing to the national championship next month. “I felt like I had a good day today and my putting was really good. I stuck to the plan I had from the practice round—hit the ball on the green and make some putts.”
Bai, from Lake Mary, Fla., took the early lead Monday, carding five birdies through his first six holes en route to a 6-under par 66 during the morning session to pace the field. Beginning the second round on the 10th tee, Bai got off to another strong start with three birdies over his first four to move to 9-under for the day.
In control with the putter Monday, Bai rolled in a 30-footer at the 10th and sank his birdie from 10 feet at the 12th. Reaching the par-5 13th in two, Bai made a routine two-putt for birdie to get to 10-under, but would take a step back with a bogey at the 16th before a double-bogey at the 18th to slip to even for the round.
Carding two inconsequential bogeys over his final nine holes Monday, Bai finished three shots better than the field at 4-under par 140 to earn top honors and qualify for his first USGA event.
“I made a lot of putts in the first round and holed out from the bunker for eagle. The second round I struggled a little bit. I was playing okay on the front and got to 3-under and then made a couple mistakes.”
Bai helped lead the University of Central Florida to its second straight NCAA National Championship appearance, notching three top-10 finishes, including a win at the Boilermaker Invitational during his sophomore campaign.
The 20-year-old who was born in Shantou, China, credits UCF coach Bryce Wallor, and swing coaches Holton Freeman and Sean Foley for his success in recent months.
“I’ve been working with my coaches recently and I feel pretty comfortable with my swing. I’m hitting the ball pretty good.”
Joining Bai at this year’s championship will be South Dakotan Sam Batta, who posted a 1-under par 143 to claim the second spot, as well as Thomas Lehman, who survived a three-way playoff for the final position late Monday.
Prior to the start of the 2018 golf season, the 18-year-old Batta wrote down three tournaments on a white board in his house: the U.S. Open, the U.S. Junior Amateur and the U.S. Amateur. While he didn’t attempt to qualify for this year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Batta qualified for the other two on his list just weeks apart.
Batta, from Watertown, S.D., grabbed the lone qualifying position at the Fargo, N.D., sectional, shooting a round of 71 June 25th to qualify for the U.S. Junior Amateur—his first national event.
On Monday Batta posted a round of 2-over par 74 before charging back with a 3-under 69 to earn the second qualifying spot at 143 to qualify for his second national tournament within 14 days.
“I’m so excited and I think this is such a big confidence booster. Fargo hasn’t even sunk in yet and now I have this,” Batta laughed after qualifying Monday. “It’s so cool because in golf you get rewarded so seldom it seems. Then when you do, you don’t even really know it’s coming.
“I’m playing in the [U.S. Junior Amateur] this weekend and I thought this would be a good warm up and I end up qualifying. I just wanted to play well today.”
Batta turned a 1-under for the second round Monday despite a chip-in and a pair of 15-foot putts for birdie on his front side. Hitting his approach inside of 15 feet at the 10th, Batta converted his birdie look to move to even par for the day.
Following a bogey at the 15th, Batta would finish his day with a pair of easy birdies at the 16th and 18th holes to finish in second at 1-under par 143, punching his ticket to Pebble Beach along with the nation’s best amateur players.
“The first round was pretty steady, I had 15 pars. The second round I really felt good, but it was just a blur. It was a very colorful scorecard.” Batta said after qualifying Monday. “I thought if I got under par there might be a chance to get an alternate spot.
“I putted well today. I didn’t make much, but everything from 30-40 feet I hit really close and made it easy on myself.
Surviving a playoff Monday, Lehman earned the third and final qualifying position after shooting rounds of 72 and 74, respectively. During his opening round early Monday, Lehman carded a pair of early birdies on his opening nine before two birdies over his final nine holes put him at even par for the first 18 holes of play.
Posting another steady round during Monday’s afternoon session, Lehman rolled in his birdie chance at the par-5 third and would card three bogeys over his final 15 holes to finish in a three-way tie for third at 146.
Lehman, who recently completed his junior season at California Polytechnic State University, is the son of 1996 Open champion and Alexandria, Minn., native Tom Lehman.
Minnesotan Jacques Wilson and Branden Meyer, from Gilbert, Ariz., finished as first and second alternates, respectively.
A field of 312 players will compete at the USGA’s oldest championship in August at both Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill Golf, as Pebble Beach will host the event for the fourth time since 1929. Most recently, David Gossett claimed the championship when it was played in 1999, one year prior to Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open on the same grounds.
7,089 YARDS, PAR 72
1. Zheng Kai Bai, Lake Mary, Fla., 66-74—140 (medalist)
2. Sam Batta, Watertown, S.D., 74-69—143 (qualifier)
T3. Thomas Lehman, Scottsdale, Ariz., 72-74—146 (qualifier)
T3. Jacques Wilson, Chaska, Minn., 73-73—146 (first alternate)
T3. Branden Meyer, Gilbert, Ariz., 73-73—146 (second alternate)
T6. Alex Uloth, Burnsville, Minn., 74-73—147
T6. Taylor Sundbom, Duluth, Minn., 72-75—147
T6. Gus Minkin, York, Pa., 74-73—147
T6. J.J. Svac, Maple Grove, Minn., 75-72—147


Download Full Results: Final Results - US Amateur Sectional Qualifying DR.pdf

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