Austyn Reily Is Ready For The US Amateur

Austyn Reily admits that aggression comes naturally to him on the golf course. He relentlessly fires at pins, hates hitting to the safe side of the green, and is firm on putts inside five feet. However, he hides that aggression well until we step onto the first tee Thursday afternoon at Golf Club of Houston.

A day before heading off to the United States Amateur, the 2021 Texas Amateur champion agreed to play 18 holes with me, giving us plenty of time to talk about his game, his life as a UH golfer, and how he qualified for the Amateur.

Playing from the championship tees at GCOH, which play around 7400 yards, Reily unleashed his driver 295 yards down the first fairway, a hole many of his peers play more conservatively. And right on cue, he hit a wedge at a tucked flagstick, just over the right greenside bunker, to about 20 feet. He ran his putt by on the left side and tapped in for an uneventful par.

The U.S. Amateur begins Monday at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey. To get there, a player must get through one of 94 qualifying sites, most of which award 2 or 3 invitations. There are five sites with smaller fields where just one person gets through – Hawaii, Idaho, rural California, Las Cruces, and Puerto Rico. Reily’s aggressive streak led him to Puerto Rico last month for a two-day qualifier.

Puerto Rico is relatively new in the USGA qualifying rotation, and not many players from the mainland make the trip. So it seems strange for a Texan like Austyn to go: there were six qualifiers in Texas and two more within a 3-hour drive of his hometown of Pottsboro.

It was a strategic choice for Reily but also tinged with aggression. He mulled over the decision and talked it through with his parents. He knew that to qualify in Texas, he’d face big, deep fields and have to make a lot of birdies. Looking over last year’s qualifying results around the state, two-round scores of -8 failed to qualify at one course while -6 failed at another.

In 2022, you needed to shoot -8 at Kerrville to make it to Jersey while two guys that shot -6 at Champions failed (as did a guy that shot -5 at Trinity Forest in Dallas). Austyn can make birdies in bunches, but his game is more suited to traditional USGA golf: fairways, greens, and a great short game. And he certainly wasn’t alone in playing an out-of-state qualifier: in all, a Texan finished in the top-5 at 16 different qualifying locations around the country.

Puerto Rico was the smallest field of all 94 qualifiers and Reily knew he’d have to win it to advance. Former UH teammate Andres Aranguren, a Puerto Rican native, shot 144 (even par) in last year’s qualifier there and won it. Aranguren’s success helped convince Reily to bet on himself: he decided to take the risk.

After a couple of early birdies and bogeys, Reily made 12-straight pars to close the first round of the qualifier at Grand Reserve Golf Club at even par, tying for the overnight lead with two others. He led by a shot heading to the last hole, but UTSA golfer David Harrison closed with a birdie to send it to a playoff. Austyn’s U.S. Amateur chances hinged on a match-play situation, but he quickly ended the suspense, beating Harrison on the first playoff hole.

The gamble on himself had paid off: he secured his spot in the field, joining fellow U.H. golfers Jacob Borow and incoming transfer Santiago De La Fuente. They’ll try to add to UH golf legacy: Cougars have won every major, the Players Championship, Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups, Walker Cups, conference titles, national titles, the Texas Amateur, and every other major amateur event. But, somehow, no UH player has ever won the U.S. Amateur.

Medalist in Puerto Rico

We started talking about Puerto Rico on the fourth hole at Golf Club of Houston, a dogleg left par-5 with water that is reachable from the tee for longer hitters. Austyn said he had been aggressive off the tee and had splashed balls in his last two rounds. Thursday, he grabbed 3-wood and smashed it nearly 275 yards. He laid up with a knock-down 6-iron, then stuck a wedge to five feet. He missed the birdie putt after seeing my poor effort from roughly the same spot.

Laying up with a 6 iron on the fourth hole

On #5, with water again down the left side, he hits another three-wood, then flights a mid-iron low, trying to skip it to the back pin. Finally, after several good looks, he rolls that one in for his first birdie of the day. Strategic aggression: strategic down the fairway and aggressive at the flag.

As he’s telling me about winning the qualifier, Austyn is lining up a birdie putt on the par-3 seventh hole. He’d fired at the flag again but had come up about 25 feet short. Reliving his Puerto Rican win with a bemused smile, he steps over the ball, and, for the first time, I notice his unusual putting grip. He calls it “something like a baseball grip,” but it looks more like a bear hug to me.

Five seconds later, the 25-footer dives into the middle of the cup. It’s the second of four birdies in a nine-hole stretch and he’s now two-under on the day. As we walk off the green, Austyn explained it is actually a light grip, as he wants to feel the putter head instead of squeezing hard and being tense like most golfers. I make a mental note to bear hug my putter soon.

We both made par at #8 and on the long par-3 ninth hole as Austyn makes the turn at 34. On #10, from a good lie in the right rough, he goes flag hunting again and stops it within 8 feet. I miss my birdie putt, but Austyn rolls his in. Three-under.

Reily hit 14 of the first 15 greens, the only miss coming because he hit a driver into the water on the driveable par-4 12th hole. But from 55 yards out, he sticks a little wedge to three feet and cleans it up for par.

As we waited to hit on the tee at 15, I asked him what typically gets him in trouble on the golf course, and he smiled. “When I’m too aggressive,” he says. It happens mainly off the tee: biting off the corner of a dogleg or hitting driver when three-wood makes more sense. Or when there’s reachable water from the tee.

That’s where strategic aggression will be key this week. The A.W. Tillinghast-designed Ridgewood Country Club is similar to many of his more famous courses – Baltustrol, Winged Foot, and Bethpage Black. The championship course in use this week is a composite of the three nine-hole layouts at Ridgewood. It will play to 7588 yards (par 71) and features narrow, tree-lined fairways that force players to be long, precise, and to shape their shots.

Due to a quirk in logistics, Austyn will tee off on #9 at Ridgewood Monday morning, a hole that perfectly encapsulates the Tillinghast design. The 503-yard par four entices long hitters to bomb it down the left side, which feeds down a slope and allows for a much shorter second shot (but from a tough downhill stance).

More conservative tee shots will approach the green from further back but with a flatter stance. Either decision demands accuracy due to a narrow fairway protected by trees on both sides. The raised green is hard to read, with slopes from left to right and is surrounded by three bunkers. The raised bunker on the right side is difficult to get up and down from. A par means you’ve gained on the field.

Reily will start his U.S. Amateur on #9 of the championship course // Photo courtesy of Ridgewood CC

The U.S. Amateur is perhaps the most grueling event in golf: a supersized field of 312 playing 36 holes of stroke play over two courses, with the top 64 players moving on to match play. Every hole gives players an array of options. Are you aggressive? Can you shape the shot as the hole demands? Can you crush it and keep it in play? How confident are you around the small poa and bentgrass greens?

When factoring in two allotted practice rounds, the top four finishers will play 11 rounds of golf in 9 days. Reily is prepared to go the distance; he’s shaped everything around winning this tournament: his workouts and nutrition, his mental preparation, and even his packing. Asked if he’d bring five outfits and do laundry if needed, he laughed as he shook his head. “I’m bringing ten playing outfits, so I don’t have to worry about laundry,” he told me. That’s ten shirt/short/belt/hat combinations plus off-the-course gear.

Austyn hits a tee shot in his practice round at Ridgewood on Saturday // Courtesy Austyn Reily

There are opportunities for aggression at Ridgewood and Arcola (one round of stroke play will be at neighboring Arcola Country Club due to the field size). Strategy will be key: hit the wrong shot at the wrong time and you could be dead. Literally? A cemetery runs down the right side of the 10th fairway. Reily knows that making pars will go a long way to advancing to match-play.

In the last few years, a score of +2 in 36 holes of stroke play has secured a spot in the field of 64. That’s the type of golf Austyn can play. It’s also a lot of grinding, imagination in the short game, and patience. In rounds that will likely stretch to six hours, a great relationship between player and caddy will be crucial to focusing on the big picture. The caddy must know his player and be able to understand and communicate the game at an elite level. Austyn asked former U.H. golfer Laurence Crea to be his caddy this week. The duo has played a lot of golf together, and Reily believes no one knows his game better than Crea.

Reily blasts a driver

Driving down the par-5 13th, I asked Austyn when he realized he belonged as a big-time college player. He said he’d never been asked a question like that and took a minute to think about it. I thought he might say the Texas Amateur, which he won last summer. Then it came to him: he realized he belonged after the Jordan Spieth AJGA tournament after his junior year in high school. He finished second and beat many players already committed to P5 schools. He knew if he could beat them at a big multi-day junior event, he could beat them in college.

As a follow-up, I asked if he thought he belonged in the U.S. Amateur field, and he didn’t hesitate to say yes. He acknowledged that this was the biggest tournament he’s ever played in, but he already has a plan. He’s broken down his week in New Jersey into eight parts: practice rounds, two days of stroke play, and, if he advances, six mini-tournaments to the championship. He believes if he can get through stroke play, then he can beat anyone in match play.

Austyn over a shot early in the round

Austyn barely missed the green at 16 and 17 but chipped it to a foot each time to remain at -4. But he hit his second shot into a bunker on 18 and couldn’t get it up and down, and made his only bogey of the day.

As we walk off the 18th green, with the sun setting in front of us, I tell Reily that he looks ready. With as serious of a face as I saw from him all day, he looks up and states, “I am ready. Very ready.”

Austyn Reily tees off Monday at 6 a.m. Central.

Reily is ready.

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Jason Holmes
Jason Holmeshttp://www.hounil.com
Ryan is the publisher of GoCoogs. He is also a real estate agent and entrepreneur.
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