GLENVIEW, Ill. – The Auburn University men’s golf program may want to consider moving the Tiger Invitational to North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois.
Led by Brendan Valdes, a pack of three Tigers stormed to the top of the leaderboard at the 121st Western Amateur on Wednesday as the field of 156 was cut to the low 50 players who shot even par or better.
Valdes, an Orlando, Florida, native, backed up his opening round 66 with another 5-under performance on the par-71 layout to take a three-shot lead through two rounds of stroke-play qualifying. His college teammates Jackson Koivun, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and John Marshall Butler, of Louisville, Kentucky, are each in ties for second and fourth, respectively. Alex Vogelsong, an Auburn fifth year from Palm City, Florida, and Carson Bacha, an Auburn senior from York, Pennsylvania, are tied in 26th.
“We’ve all been playing really well,” Koivun, an incoming freshman at Auburn said. “I’m really excited to see how the rest of the week goes and compete with them the next few years.”
Despite making birdie on his first three holes, Valdes’ second round looked like it may go sideways on the 10th hole. After his tee shot bounced through the left side of the fairway, Valdes was unable to find the ball in the thick rough and made a double bogey with the lost ball penalty, erasing his hot start.
“We ended up finding my ball 30 seconds after search time was up, and that kind of ticked me off,” Valdes said. “I thought the course owed me something now, so I decided it was time to make some birdies.”
Making birdies is exactly what Valdes did, playing his final six holes in 4-under.
“I was able to reset and capitalize, hitting a few good shots and making some putts,” Valdes said. “I’m trying to just take it one step at a time.”
Koivun made plenty of putts as well in his 5-under 66, rolling in seven birdies on the day. Few were as impressive as the 15-footer he made on the 18th.
While Koivun was reading his putt on the green, his pushcart slowly started to roll backward toward a greenside bunker.
“I tried to make the hero play and grab it, and then I slipped as well and ended up in the bunker with my bag,” Koivun said. “It took a lot of mental dedication to get back up, step over that birdie putt on 18 and make it.”
He shares a spot in second place with a past Western Amateur champion who also hit a highlight shot at North Shore today.
Michael Thorbjornsen, the 2021 champion, stood 113 yards from the hole on the 382-yard par-4 fifth with a lob wedge in his hand.
“I absolutely flushed it, and I actually said, 'Go in,' while it was at its apex,” Thorbjornsen, a Stanford senior, said. “My dad didn’t react but then another guy behind him started celebrating and I realized it went in.”
The hole-out eagle was the signature shot in a 3-under 67 for the Wellesley, Massachusetts, native.
Thorbjornsen will have the opportunity to become a two-time Western Amateur medalist after he claimed the honor and swept match play to hoist the trophy in 2021 at Glen View Club in Golf, Illinois.
“I’m two years older now and have two years of experience playing in TOUR events and amateur and college events,” Thorbjornsen said. “I feel better about my game, but we still have 100-plus holes to go, so we’ll just take it one day at a time.”
Thorbjornsen – who recently finished T17 at the John Deere Classic and fourth at the Travelers Championship on the PGA TOUR – will play 36 holes tomorrow alongside one of the top fields in amateur golf to determine the Sweet 16 for match play, which begins Friday.
On stroke behind Thorbjornsen is Wenyi Ding, who became the first player from China to win a USGA championship when he won the U.S. Junior in 2022. The Arizona State freshman sits in a tie for fourth with Butler at 6-under.
For the full leaderboard, click here.
First played at Glen View Club in 1899, the Western Amateur is the world’s third-oldest amateur championship, behind only the British Amateur (1885) and the U.S. Amateur (1895). It regularly attracts the top players from across the country and around the world, with past champions like Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
A grueling combination of stroke play and match play makes the Western Amateur one of the most demanding events in golf. The field of 156 players compete in 72 holes of stroke play over three days to determine the Sweet 16 for match play.
The match play competition will be streamed live for free on thewesternamateur.com and Peacock (subscription required), with more than 12 hours of coverage over Friday, Aug. 5, and Saturday, Aug. 6.
Attendance and parking at the Western Amateur are free.
For third and fourth round tee times, click here.