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Ziegler wins U.S. Amateur qualifier

Robbie Ziegler made it hard on anyone chasing a berth in the upcoming U.S. Amateur men’s golf tournament through 31 holes, then made it hard on himself to set up an impatient post-round waiting game Tuesday on the patio at Rogue Valley Country Club.

Ziegler got down to a tournament-low 8-under-par through 31 of the 36 holes at Tuesday’s U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier, then the 26-year-old TaylorMade Golf junior representative lost all momentum on the tough final holes at RVCC.

Ziegler scored successive bogeys on hole Nos. 14-16 to let some doubt creep into his mind before righting the ship for a pair of pars on his final two holes to post a 5-under-par 137, which proved good enough to earn the sectional’s lone qualifying spot for the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan on Aug. 15-21.

For Ziegler, it will be a repeat trip after he qualified one year ago for the U.S. Amateur in an event in Wisconsin. The 2008 Canby High graduate, who played collegiately at the University of Oregon, also qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 2011 and was part of the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2006.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Ziegler, who shot rounds of 68 and 69 Tuesday. “This is my fourth USGA event now — two in a row for me — and it’s cool to go back-to-back years, for sure. That’s hard to do, no matter what you’re qualifying for. I’m just glad my winning score held on there at the end.”

Ziegler faced a talented field of peers that included local favorites like Medford’s Jeremy Wu and Jake Quast, Ryan Melnychuk of Grants Pass, Rogue River’s Kevin Murphy and Ashland’s Matthew Hedges, among others, but found his only chief competition in Kevin Rei of Sonora, Calif.

Rei joined Ziegler as the only golfers to post subpar rounds over each 18-hole session, and was technically the leader in the clubhouse after being in the first group to wrap up play with his 3-under-par 139. Rei shot 69 in the first round and 70 in the second, but his advantage was gone moments later after Ziegler’s group completed its round.

Rei still finished as first alternate, while second alternate honors went to Joe Highsmith of Lakewood, Wash., after he placed third with rounds of 69 and 71 for a 140 total.

“I thought I let a lot of guys back in it with the way I finished,” added Ziegler, “but I’m just thankful that I held on.”

Melnychuk played in a threesome with Ziegler and was the top local finisher after he placed eighth at 4-over 146, carding a nice up-and-down on his 35th hole before finishing with a birdie 4 after draining a smooth 12-footer.

Last year’s sectional winner at Eagle Point Golf Club, Conner Kumpula of Albany, placed fifth at 143. Murphy, who tied for eighth last year, withdrew during the morning round, while Wu finished tied for 16th at 153 thanks to a second-round surge that saw him post four birdies among his final nine holes.

Hedges put himself in contention with an even-par first round but after a 5-over stretch on his final four holes he settled into a tie for 12th at 149 overall. Quast, who helped lead Cascade Christian to consecutive Class 4A/3A/2A/1A crowns, tied for 23rd at 156.

Ziegler made it difficult on the field from the get-go, posting five birdies and one eagle to offset four bogeys in his opening-round 68. He maintained that surge by going 4-under-par on the front nine of his second round and added a fifth birdie on No. 11 before letting up a little.

“It’s never easy playing in the lead, that’s for sure,” Ziegler said with a laugh.

“My putter was pretty hot and I thought for the most part I hit a lot of greens,” he added, “which is kind of key out here because they’re kind of slopey and there are some tough pins. I think the key was to keep giving myself opportunities for birdies and luckily the putter got kind of hot and I made a bunch of birdies. That allowed me to kind of hang on at the end.”

It also allowed Ziegler, who had been an assistant men’s golf coach at the University of Wisconsin until January, another shot at what he considers the toughest tournament in golf. Last year, he placed 36th in the stroke play portion of the tournament before being edged in match play on the 18th hole by Paul Dunne, who one month earlier had taken a share of the lead into the final round of the British Open.

“I got him to the last hole but couldn’t quite snipe him,” said Ziegler of Dunne. “It’s the hardest tournament as an amateur in the world but, like last year when I took a really good player to the last hole, if you make match play anything can happen.”

“In this time of my life,” he added, “I’m just happy to go again and I want to be able to share it with my whole family.”

U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier

At Rogue Valley Country Club

1, Robbie Ziegler, Canby, 68-69—137; 2, Kevin Rei, Sonora, Calif., 69-70—139; 3, Joe Highsmith, Lakewood, Wash., 69-71—140; 4, Justin Kadin, Corvallis, 72-69—141; 5, Conner Kumpula, Albany, 71-72—143; T6, Justin Wiles, Klamath Falls, 70-75—145, and Matt Marrese, Bellevue, Wash., 75-70—145; 8, Ryan Melnychuk, Grants Pass, 74-72—146; T9, Tyler Swinton, Klamath Falls, 76-72—148, and Blake Netter, Canby, 70-78—148, and Drew McCullough, Richland, Wash., 73-75—148; T12, Matthew Hedges, Ashland, 71-78—149, and RJ Manke, Lakewood, Wash., 74-75—149; T14, Riley Elmes, Lake Oswego, 72-80—152, and Cole Chrisman, Bend, 78-74—152.

T16, Jeremy Wu, Medford, 80-73—153, and Jack Loberg, Bend, 80-73—153; 18, Kade Crossland, Buhl, Idaho, 78-76—154; T19, Hunter Wescott, Portland, 73-82—155, and Alex Wrenn, Lake Oswego, 75-80—155, and Adam Ruben, Lake Oswego, 80-75—155, and Brock Anderson, Lake Oswego, 82-73—155; T23, Jake Quast, Medford, 75-81—156, and Bryce Wortman, Klamath Falls, 82-74—156, and Harrison Moir, Portland, 75-81—156; T26, Joseph Lyon, Tacoma, Wash., 77-80—157, and Colt Sherrell, Maple Valley, Wash., 78-79—157, and Tate Lightle, Lakeview, 80-77—157; T29, JC Riter, Portland, 79-79—158, and Richie Mikesell, Albany, 80-78—158.

T31, Michael Bloedel, Seattle, Wash., 76-83—159, and Clayton Madey, West Linn, 78-81—159, and Josh Whitley, Oak Harbor, Wash., 80-79—159; 34, Will Stansell, Seattle, Wash., 79-83—162; 35, Ryan DeCastilhos, Bend, 84-80—164; 36, John Giffin, Petaluma, Calif., 84-81—165; 37, Cole Dittemore, Roseburg, 82-84—166; 38; Collin Fuller, Salem, 85-82—167; DQ: Brett Wolvert, Wilsonville, 74-DQ; WD: Kevin Murphy, Rogue River, and David Simms, Ashland, and Alfonso Powers, Central Point, and Nick Friend, Gig Harbor, Wash.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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Ryan Melnychuk competes in the U.S. Amateur Qualifier at Rogue Valley Country Club on Tuesday. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Jeremy Wu competes in the U.S. Amateur Qualifier at Rogue Valley Country Club on Tuesday. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.