SAN ANTONIO—Chad Sewell from Conroe is playing in his first men’s amateur event this week. Through 36 holes, the 17-year-old high school senior proved unfazed by the enormity of the stage. With a two-day total of 5-under-par 137, he leads the 107th Texas Amateur presented by Insperity headed into the weekend.
If playing in the state’s oldest and most prestigious amateur tournament at historic Oak Hills Country Club was supposed to invoke nerves or discomfort, Sewell didn’t get the memo. Instead, he’s 36 holes away from becoming the youngest winner of the Texas Amateur. Being one of the youngest and most inexperienced players in the field didn’t bother Sewell, either. While the 144-player field battled Oak Hills to a second round scoring average of 75.59, Sewell cruised in with a 2-under 69.
In doing so, he closed both his front and back nines Friday with three straight threes on his scorecard. He leads the championship by one shot over 2004 Texas Amateur champion Zach Atkinson from Colleyville. For complete scoring, click here.
“Yeah it’s different than playing with kids, but I’ve always played with older guys,” said Sewell, who is a three-time winner of the Tyler Rose Junior Championship (2014-16). “I know I’m plenty long, and this course doesn’t favor longer hitters anyway.”
Sewell started the second round on the 10th hole. He birdied the 16th and 17th holes and solved the swirling winds on the par-3 18th to make par. He virtually repeated the performance on his inward nine. Birdies on seven and eight were followed by a near chip-in on the par-3 ninth. He eased in a 5-foot par save to finish his round.
“I grew up playing grainy greens like these,” said Sewell, who has verbally committed to play college golf at UT-San Antonio. “They’re pretty easy to read. You just look at the burnt edge on the cup and it’s pretty easy.”
Back in 2014 at Brook Hollow Golf Club in Dallas, Will Zalatoris became the youngest winner of the Texas Amateur. He was 17 years, nine months and 29 days old when he raised the H.L. Edwards Memorial trophy in victory. Zalatoris went on to win the Trans-Mississippi Championship and U.S. Junior Amateur in the following weeks. Should Sewell finish the job at Oak Hills this weekend, he’ll be 17 years, six months and one day old, besting Zalatoris by about two months.
Plenty of worthy challengers will try to ruin that storyline, of course. It starts with one of the most decorated competitors in the field. Not only has Atkinson won a Texas Amateur, he’s a USGA National Champion. Along with Colby Harwell and Aaron Hickman, Atkinson was part of the victorious 2104 U.S. State Team Championship squad. Atkinson also won the 2013 and ’15 North Texas Mid-Amateurs and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur. He lost that one to eventual champion Mike McCoy.
“Experience always helps,” said Atkinson, who shot a 4-under 67 on Friday. He sits at 4-under 138 overall. “I try to stay in the present and hit the shot in front of me. I don’t get out to play as much as I used to. So when I do get out, I really enjoy it.”
Atkinson is trying to write his own happy ending this week, one that has all the markings of a celebration. He turned 34 years old on Monday, for starters. His wife Ashley’s birthday is Saturday. His entire family, including two young sons, is in town and staying at a nearby resort. “I’ll probably get in some pool time this afternoon,” he said after completing his second round.
Three players are two shots behind Sewell. Baylor junior Nick Thornton matched Atkinson for the low score Friday and shares third place at 3-under 139 with recent Pepperdine graduate Fred Wedel and James Thompson, an incoming freshman at Purdue.
First round leader Mitchell Meissner had a rough go in the second round. He suffered two double bogeys before he reached the turn and ultimately signed for a 4-over 75. It dropped him back to even-par for the championship. Meissner, a longtime Oak Hills member, his tied for ninth place and has plenty of time to climb back to the top of the leaderboard.
This week marks the fourth time Oak Hills has hosted the Texas Amateur. Former champions on the diabolical A.W. Tillinghast-designed gem include Masters winners Ben Crenshaw and Charles Coody. Crenshaw won the 1972 Texas Amateur at Oak Hills and went on to claim green jackets in 1984 and 1995. Coody hoisted the H.L. Edwards Memorial trophy after the 1959 Texas Amateur and won his Masters in 1971.
Oak Hills, a thought-proving, shot-makers golf course, is no stranger to holding large-scale events. Five-time British Open champion Tom Watson in 1987 won the inaugural PGA Tour Championship at Oak Hills. The 6-iron he used to birdie the final hole still hangs in the pro shop. The club also hosted the Texas Open from 1961-94, the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2001 and a Champions Tour event from 2002-10. Hall of Famer Arnold Palmer won twice at Oak Hills. Lee Trevino is an Oak Hills champion, as are Jay Haas (three times), Hale Irwin, Calvin Peete, Nick Price, John Cook and Corey Pavin.
The Texas Golf Association will crown a new champion here on Sunday. It’ll come from the 58 players who made the 36-hole cut at 7-over 149 or better. The third round begins Saturday at 8 a.m. For more information, including scoring, click here.