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OAKMONT, Pa. – No pain, no game.
Devon Bling is a tough kid, so it’s no surprise that he doesn’t mind absorbing a few punches from the toughest golf courses on the planet. This week’s main card at the U.S. Amateur, iconic-yet-brutish Oakmont Country Club, is as punishing as they come.
“I know a lot of tough golf courses scare a lot of people,” Bling said, “and to me, I see it as a challenge and accept it.”
Bling stepped into the ring Tuesday morning at Oakmont after a 1-under 69 Monday at Longue Vue Club, which yielded a 63 to first-round leader Jacob Bridgeman. With the match-play cut likely to land within a shot or two of 3 over, Bling had a cushion, but not much; Oakmont played an average of more than seven shots over par on the first day of stroke-playing qualifying.
In other words, Bling had to be on his toes.
Oakmont landed the first strike, a bogey on the opening hole, but Bling quickly settled in. He birdied Nos. 3 and 4, and later turned in a tidy even-par 35. No damage done. After trading shots with a birdie at No. 12 and bogey at No. 14, Bling delivered the first uppercut.
For the past few years, Bling has battled through some right-wrist issues, only missing one college event in the past three seasons because of the injury. He finally had a procedure done last month to remove a cyst and relieve the pain. The results were immediate: he won his next start, at the Pacific Coast Amateur.
With a healthier wrist, Bling was able to unload on a drive Tuesday afternoon on Oakmont’s 312-yard, par-4 hole. Bling couldn’t see the shot from the tee box, but his ball easily cleared the 300 yards to the front of the green before landing like a wedge.
“I was hoping for a few claps,” Bling said.
He got a few. Bling’s ball was 12 feet away, and he rolled in the eagle putt to get to 3 under, firmly inside the cut line.
The eagle drew plenty of conversation during a nearly four-hour weather delay, which began after Bling chipped out following a wayward drive into the left fairway bunker at No. 18. Bling had a lot of time to think about a potential up-and-down par with wedge, but it may have been too much; he ended up making double bogey to shoot even-par 70 and end up at 1 under.
Not that Bling cared much about the closing blemish. As he knows, making match play is all that matters – and while Round 2 will bleed into Wednesday morning, Bling was all but safely into the knockout stage. He was the No. 41 seed at the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, and he advanced all the way to the championship match before falling to Viktor Hovland.
“Anybody who makes match play can win the tournament,” Bling said.
But few players in the field know what it’s like to get within a match of doing so.
“You feel a lot of pressure going into a tournament like this – you want to make match play, you want to be on TV, whatever it might be,” Bling said. “I just come out here and I’m just trying to see how many rounds I can play at Oakmont, and I’ve got one in the bag already and hopefully a few more to come.”