Encinitas teen Luke Potter not fazed by being youngest golfer in U.S. Amateur
He won state high school golf title as a freshman last year
There will be players longer off the tee.
There will be players better on the green.
There won’t, however, be many in the 264-player field better prepared than Luke Potter when the 120th U.S. Amateur Championship tees off Monday, Aug. 10 in Bandon, Ore.
“I guarantee, if it’s light out Luke will be playing or practicing,” said La Costa Canyon High golf coach Casey Sovacool. “He puts in a crazy amount of time working on his game.”
Potter, who at 16 is the youngest player in the U.S. Amateur, shot a final round 64 at Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach to win the 2019 California High School State individual title and lead LCC to the state team championship.
A freshman, he was the first state champion from San Diego since Xander Schauffele of Scripps Ranch in 2011.
There are players from 26 countries in next week’s tournament. Potter is the youngest. The oldest is 66.
A large percentage of the field played or are playing college golf.
“I prepare for every tournament, but I’m going to have to up the focus a bit for this one,” Potter said.
The U.S. Amateur starts with each golfer playing one round on 7,214-yard, par-72 Bandon Dunes and one on 6,850-yard, par-71 Bandon Trails.
Potter will be playing with Scott Shingler, the player of the year in Virginia, and Aaron Du of China, who will play college golf at Cal.
After 36 holes of stroke play, the field will be reduced to the low 64 scorers. Then there will be six rounds of match play, ending with a 36-hole final on Aug. 16.
“The goal is to make it to match play,” Potter said. “You can only control what you can control. So I’ll play my game.
“And I’ll be prepared.”
Luke and his father PJ flew Thursday to Oregon. There was a practice round Sunday, but Luke and PJ planned to get on the course before then.
“There is only so much you can do before you get there,” Luke said. “There are fly overs of the course online. That helps.
“I’ve studied the score cards. And there is always word of mouth.”
Bandon boasts seaside courses, a links club with wind and as much as 50 yards of run on shots.
“Water doesn’t come into play, but there is sand and brush around the greens,” PJ said. “Torrey Pines is a seaside course, but Bandon isn’t a lot like Torrey Pines.
“So this will be new for Luke.”
PJ Potter, who was a 4-handicapper at one point, said his son is unique.
“Being alone, being at the driving range six or seven hours doesn’t bother him. And he does a really good job of staying humble.”
It has been a choppy summer season for Luke in a sport that prides itself on a tournament every weekend.
The U.S. Junior Amateur in Minnesota was canceled. Still, Potter was able to play in the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst and the Western Amateur at Crooked Stick in Indiana.
And then there was the AJGA Simplify Boys Championship at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands in Texas.
Potter won the event, with a 54-hole total of 196, a record 20-under par. He shot a record 62 in the second round.
No one in the history of the event — not Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler — has had a better score in relation to par.
Potter, who is committed to play at Arizona State, said having his name mentioned with the likes of Woods and Mickelson was special.
“Obviously, I’m too young to have seen the young Tiger in his prime, but all his great tournaments are on YouTube,” Potter said. “I watch those to get motivated. And I love watching Phil play, especially because he’s an Arizona State guy.”
Sovacool doubts the pressure, the enormity of the U.S. Amateur, will be too much for Potter.
“Luke shot a 64 at Poppy Hills in the state tournament,” Sovacool said. “That’s absurd.
“He came to me after the 16th hole and asked how we stood. I told him the team was three shots behind, and he was a shot behind.
“So he goes out on 17 — a dogleg left — and pounds a drive over the trees and gives it a Tiger club twirl, looks over at me and asked if I saw that.”
Potter used a chip and a tap-in on the par-5 at Poppy Hills to win the individual title by a stroke over Caden Fioroni of Torrey Pines. LCC shot 352 as a team, beating Torrey Pines by five shots.
“That was a big thrill, a fun experience,” Potter said. “I was locked in, and got it done.”
Potter will not return to La Costa Canyon, and Sovacool understands.
“He missed nine weeks of school, playing other events, so making up classes and homework was really tough for him,” Sovacool said.
Instead, Potter is enrolled at Classical Academy, will take his classes online and probably won’t play high school golf again.
“I love the game,” Potter said. “I have a passion to win. I love competition. I love the fact golf is an individual sport. And I love the resources we have in San Diego.”
OTHER SAN DIEGO PLAYERS
Dylan Menante: Played at Sage Creek High and averaged 70.95 over 8 tournaments with 3 Top-10 finishes as a freshman at Pepperdine.
Alexander Yang: Carlsbad resident who is a Stanford commit. The 17-year-old was a first-team Rolex Junior All-American.
Ryan Smith: A North Carolina commit, he helped Classical Academy to the San Diego Section Division III championship.
Joey Vrzich: Helped Christian High to the San Diego Section Division III title in 2015. After two years at Nevada, transferred to Pepperdine where he averaged 70.83 over 6 tournaments and 3 Top-10 finishes. Won the 2020 California Amateur championship at Torrey Pines.
Nick Geyer: Veteran amateur player. Golf assistant coach at USD.
Cameron Sisk: Valhalla High grad, who will be a junior at Arizona State where he was a third-team All-American. Averages 70.92 over 61 rounds in college.
— John Maffei is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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