Karl Vilips has shot lower scores, but maybe never played as well as he did today in advancing to the US Amateur quarter-finals.
Vilips, confronting Brad Dalke – the man who duelled so hard with eventual champion Curtis Luck in the 2016 final of this event – was a remarkable five-under par when the pair shook hands on the 17th green.
And while that stroke score wouldn’t have mattered one iota in a stunning 3&1 victory over Dalke, who was probably playing his last competitive round as an amateur, it is extremely significant in other ways.
Host course Pinehurst No.2 played to a stroke average of 77.04 during the first two days of qualifying this week, including Vilips’ own seven-over-par 77 on day one.
History will show that the Florida-based West Australian duly went out the next day to record an equal course-record 65 on the nearby No.4 course to reach the match play phase.
But as tough as that course was and is, it’s nothing in comparison to its illustrious neighbour.
Vilips, on the eve of his 18th birthday, went on the attack early against Dalke and, after winning the first with a par, drove the short par-four third green with a superb high cut.
After conceding Dalke’s birdie, the 2016 Youth Olympic champion duly binned a 15m eagle putt that seemingly took an age to run down a steep hill and fall in dead centre.
From that crowd-rocking point, Vilips was mentally bulletproof in getting on track to shave what likely would have been in the vicinity of 12 shots off his Monday scoreline on the same legendary course.
“I just had like 50 feet or something straight down that hill, downgrain, and I really was just trying to lag it up inside of a foot,” Vilips said of his eagle, his second this week after a hole-in-one during a practice round on the No.4 course.
“And it never really left its line, rolled end over end and had perfect speed.
“But if that missed even with perfect speed, it was still going to be 3-4 feet past the hole.
“But that was probably one of the best shots of the day.”
Which is really saying something given the selection he provided, including in his earlier 3&1 win over No.11 seed Steven Fisk in the Round of 32.
“You just have to play good golf, execute the shots you need and not give them any breathing room because they’re such good players,” Vilips said.
“If they see that you’re down in the dumps feeling bad about a couple shots that you’ve hit, they can take advantage of that. So I just have to stay positive and not let my emotions get to me.
“(But Brad) was definitely my hardest match this week. I was five under with no bogeys and he just grinded it out, made a few birdies or I made pars, and I just did the same thing I’ve done the previous two matches; get up early in the match and never lose the lead.
“It was definitely my most stressful match out there. We just played really good golf.”
Vilips, playing his third US Amateur, said he was a much more complete player this time around.
“My first US Ams I really just didn’t think I could make match play, being like 14, 15, and just didn’t have a lot of confidence heading in,” he said.
“But this week coming off the hot tournaments this summer so far, I really felt like I could do it.
“I feel like I’ve changed a lot as far as mentality heading into match play. (In) stroke play (this week), I was eight over through 10, so I was just able to battle back (whereas) if I was eight over through 10 two years ago, I probably would have just thrown in the towel.”
Vilips paid tribute to his upbringing on Australian courses for his ability at Pinehurst.
“Growing up a little bit on the Melbourne Sandbelt definitely prepares you for a course like this – firm greens, fast greens, a lot of fall-offs. It reminds me a lot of Royal Melbourne.
“Most of the players (here) come from the (United) States, (so) it takes them a while to adjust, but I guess it is an advantage because I already know how these are going to react.
“I’ve played a bunch here back in the day. But being over there on that Sand Belt, it’s a lot like this, so it’s definitely prepared me well.”
Earlier in the day, another American-based Aussie, Jack Trent, went to 21 holes before having his US Amateur tilt end in the Round of 32.
Queenslander Trent, a student at UNLV in Nevada, duelled back and forth with Alex Fitzpatrick in another high-class clash, but the Englishman drilled a 5m birdie on the third hole of overtime before politely apologising to the Aussie.
Vilips, the only non-American left in the field, will face William Holcomb V for a spot in the semi-finals. Their match starts at 3.15pm local time (3.15am Perth time tonight).