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3 Lobos take top spots at US Open qualifier

It was a Lobo party at the U.S. Open Qualifying event at UNM Championship Golf Course on Monday, as three UNM men’s golfers took the top three spots — Brandon Shong, Bastien Amat, Matthew Watkins — to advance to the June 7 sectional qualifier and one step closer to the U.S. Open (June 17-20 at Torrey Pines).

What’s more, two former Lobos Gustavo Moranto (3-under 69) and Sam Saunders (70) took the two alternate spots. Saunders beat former UNM golfer and Albuquerque Academy alumnus Chandler Smith-Stenson and Cibola standout Aiden Krafft on the first playoff hole.

“That’s crazy,” said Shong, who shot a personal-best 6-under 66 in his U.S. Open Qualifying debut. “We’ve all been playing well. It’s nice to get all of us into the (sectional) qualifier. It feels good.”

Amat shot 67 and Watkins 68. Both are freshmen, who, along with Shong, helped the Lobos to a Mountain West Conference title at OMNI Tucson National Golf Course in Arizona on May 1. They’ll be back on UNM Championship GC next Monday for the NCAA Regional with UNM as the No. 5 seed.

Shong, orginally from Australia and a junior who transferred in from Ranger junior college in Texas, said he now has added confidence going into the regional. If Shong, Amat and Watkins play this well next week, the Lobos will be hard to beat.

“The three guys that got the top spots, that’s just great to see,” said UNM coach Glen Millican, who played in the event and finished tied for 18th at 5-over in a field of 48. “It’s kind of neat that people tied to UNM golf have the top and alternate spots.”

It didn’t hurt for Millican to play in Monday’s qualifier, as he could see how the course was set up for a championship-type event. The USGA and Sun Country Amateur Golf Association conducted the event.

Next week, Monday through Wednesday, the Lobos will try to finish among the five lowest-shooting teams to move on to the NCAA Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, on May 28-June 2. It will be challenging to win the regional at their home course with the overall No. 1 seed Oklahoma coming to Albuquerque.

Shong now knows he’ll be ready. He said there was a bit of wind on the back nine, but nothing to knock him off his game. He finished with seven birdies, four on the back nine (hole Nos. 11, 12, 13, 18).

“My short game was really good today,” Shong said. “I just took advantage of the short holes. I didn’t really hit many bad shots today.”

Shong played in a group that included Saunders.

There are nine sites for U.S. Open sectional qualifying on June 7, including:

  •  RattleSnake Point Golf Club (CopperHead Course), Milton, Ontario
  •  Rolling Hills Country Club, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.
  •  The Bear’s Club, Jupiter, Fla.
  •  Piedmont Driving Club, Atlanta, Ga.
  •  Woodmont Country Club (North Course), Rockville, Md.
  •  Century Country Club & Old Oaks Country Club, Purchase, N.Y.
  •  Brookside Golf & Country Club & The Lakes Golf & Country Club, Columbus, Ohio
  •  Springfield (Ohio) Country Club, Springfield, Ohio
  •  Meadow Springs Country Club, Richland, Wash.

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