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Tight matches define AZ Amateur

With the tees moved back to a demanding 7,349 yards, the 88th Arizona Amateur Championship got a little long and tight on Wednesday at the Gallery Golf Club in Marana. So intense, in fact, that 16 of the 32 opening round matches went to the 18th hole on the North Course – or beyond.

One of those close encounters was won by Phoenix’s Zachary Wright, last year’s state high school champ from Pinnacle High School who his on his way to LSU. Wright, who was 4-up with five holes to play, ended up going 21 holes before he prevailed over Snowflake’s James Smith, who had birdied the 15th, 17th and 18th holes along with a Wright bogey to make a match out of it.

“I was like cruising along waiting for him to make a mistake, and he birdies three of the last four holes,’’ said a somewhat bewildered Wright, who had made just two birdies and two bogeys on the day before a par won it on the third extra hole.

“The course was way longer than it was for the two days (of medal play, 7,000 yards). But it’s still not playing that long because of the elevation.’’

Wright, who leaves to play in the U.S. Amateur next week, takes on another teen-ager in Thursday’s second round in Yuma’s Grady Bourguignon, who escaped with a 1-up victory over Shane Allor. Coincidentally, Allor was Wright’s teammate this past year at Pinnacle High and is headed to Boise State in the fall.

In all, seven matches ended with 1-up scores, while two were 2-up and seven more went extra holes. Two of the bigger upsets fell into that nail-biter category, as No. 62 seed Chris Meyers, a 16-year-old from Oro Valley, sidelined No. 3 seed Carter Mejia of Scottsdale, 1-up, and No. 4 seed Ian Patterson of Tucson was eliminated by Tom Meissner of Chandler in 21 holes. Meyers, who got into the tournament on an exemption from the First Tee of Tucson, is the son of Dan Meyers, the 1994 Arizona Amateur champ when the tournament was held at Tucson Country Club.

Another of those OT duels of interest pitted former Red Mountain teammates Kolton Lapa against Brett Wilson. Both Mesa teens played well before Lapa outlasted Wilson in 19 holes. Wilson, who is headed to Colorado State in the fall, was felled by two straight bogeys at the end after leading throughout most of the match. It was a big turnaround for Lapa, who has earned a scholarship to Nebraska.
 
The tournament’s top two seeds advanced easily. No. 1 Matt Record rolled over fellow Scottsdale resident, Brent Baylon, for a 4-and-3 victory, while No. 2 Ricky Lee, a sophomore on the Arizona golf team from Tucson, posted a 4-and-2 triumph over Will Twitty of Scottsdale. Twitty is the son of former PGA/Champions Tour player Howard Twitty.
  
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, although it wasn’t necessarily an upset, was Chandler’s Aaron Wong, the No. 21 seed, outlasting Scottsdale’s Michael Wog, the No. 44 seed, in 19 holes. Wog, who was the runner-up in the AZ Amateur last year, was playing in his last Arizona Golf Association event before he turns pro later this month. Wong also is headed to Nebraska.

In the featured match of the day, at least from a nostalgia standpoint, five-time AZ Amateur champ Ken Kellaney of Phoenix took on No. 5 seed Bryan Hoops of Chandler, the 2005 AGA player of the year. Even though both players might be considered past their prime — especially in this field loaded with collegians and high school standouts — they put on a great show before Hoops emerged with a 2-and-1 victory.

But it was as intense as any match after Kellaney jumped out to a 1-up lead with a birdie on the third hole before Hoops roared back with birdies at Nos. 6, 7, 9 and 10 for a 4-up advantage. Kellaney wasn’t finished, however, as he made two birdies to go with a Hoops bogey at the 15th to cut the margin to what turned out to be the final score, as both players parred in.

“Ken’s still got a lot of game. He still has one of the purest swings out there,’’ noted the big-bopping Hoops, who has made 17 birdies and an eagle to go with three double bogeys and a triple through his first three rounds at the Gallery.

“It was fun to play Ken but a little sad, too, because I always root for him to win that next title. But I’ve been playing really well, so I’ve got to keep my head down and just keep plugging.’’

Hoops will go to the opposite end of the age spectrum for the next round with his opponent being 16-year-old Shayne Yoon of Hamilton High School, a 6-and-4 winner over another Chandler teen, Jacobo Smith. Told he would have his hands full against Yoon, Hoops laughed.

“Hey, all these kids are good these days,’’ he said. “Luckily, it’s match play, where as you know, anything can happen.’’