The path to Matthew Watkins’ first U.S. Amateur Championship was a bit tricky, apparently requiring some improvisational skills.
The University of New Mexico junior’s practice round consisted of just 12 holes. Watkins said he only played the holes that appeared difficult and made his game plan from that. What he formulated, worked.
Watkins shot 8-under par-136 (65-71) to win the qualifier by four strokes at Golfcrest Country Club in Pearland, Texas, on July 11. It was his first time playing the course that is about 275 miles away from his hometown of Rockwall.
Now he must come up with a new plan for The Ridgewood Country Club course in Paramus, New Jersey, site of the 122nd U.S. Amateur Championship, Monday through Aug. 21.
Carson Herron, Watkins’ roommate and a UNM sophomore, also qualified to compete in the U.S. Amateur, as did New Mexico State junior Trey Diehl, a Piedra Vista High product.
Watkins’ qualifier win comes at a great time, as the UNM men’s golf season approaches. The Lobos open the 2022-23 year at the Maui Jim Intercollegiate Sept. 9-11 at Mirabel Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. Then they’ll host the William H. Tucker Intercollegiate Sept. 23-24.
“I think it’s just great,” UNM coach Glen Millican said of Watkins’ recent win. “He won a couple times last summer. When you win a U.S. Am qualifier, especially the way he did, you have to play great golf. (Watkins and Herron) have both played well. But it doesn’t surprise them because they know they have it in them.”
The Lobos failed to successfully defend their Mountain West Conference title in the spring and ended the year on a sour note, finishing 10th at the NCAA Palm Beach Gardens Regional.
UNM appears to be a team in transition with the rough ending last year and with All-American Sam Choi transferring to Pepperdine.
Watkins said the Lobos have something to prove this year, yet it won’t be as difficult as people might think.
“I don’t really think that (missing Choi is) that big of a factor because we’re getting Albert (Boneta) back,” Watkins said of the UNM senior who missed the majority of last year with a right wrist injury. “I think if everyone gets a little bit better we’ll make up for Sam (leaving) and maybe even more.”
As a team, Watkins said the Lobos were their own enemy last year, putting too much pressure on themselves.
As an individual, Watkins said he needs to be more patient. He’s also working on his alignment, he said, because he’s been hitting the ball far left lately.
He plans to build off his U.S. Am qualifier win and gain more experience from playing in the event.
“It’s been a little difficult trying to figure things out as I go,” Watkins said of his sophomore year. “It’s just a lot different than the golf I’ve played. You have to be a lot more patient and I’m trying to figure that out. I’ve been learning that a lot. It’s hard to tell myself to be patient because I like to play aggressive. Sometimes you just got to be in the middle.”
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Author: Steve Virgen / Journal Assistant Sports Editor