Xiong earns medalist honors at 2017 Western Amateur

GLENCOE, ILLINOIS -- Norman Xiong, of Canyon Lake, California, learned he was the 115th Western Amateur medalist Thursday while sitting at a table in the downstairs dining room at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Illinois.

“I was ready for dinner,” he said.

But food would have to wait.

Although he finished more than one hour before the final group did, Xiong’s 14-under 270 was enough to edge out Brad Dalke, of Norman, Oklahoma, by one stroke. Dalke, playing in the final pairing, had a chance to tie Xiong at 14 under, but the Oklahoma junior’s 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th missed its mark.

“I can’t believe it,” said Xiong, a sophomore at Oregon. “I didn’t expect this being so far back to start the day. My main goal was to get into match play. If I put together two solid rounds, I knew I had a chance at the top five, but I didn’t expect to win.”

Despite entering Thursday’s final two rounds of stroke play tied for 29th, Xiong thought two good rounds could catapult him up the leaderboard.

He was right.

Starting at No. 10, Xiong wasted no time making his move by carding five birdies and no bogeys on his first nine to carry him to a 66. In the afternoon, he started with four consecutive birdies on the back nine and shot 65.

“I knew if I just played my game, I could get in there pretty solidly,” Xiong said. “Things got hot with my putter in the beginning of both rounds, and things went my way.”

While the medalist was named Thursday, the Sweet 16 will have to wait until Friday.

Due to darkness, there will be a playoff for the four players who finished at 8 under for the final three spots into match play. The third and fourth rounds were interrupted for a total of 140 minutes by two weather delays. The playoff will start at 7 a.m. on the ninth hole and continue, if needed, to holes 1 and 18. First round matches are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.

Nick Hardy, of Northbrook, Illinois, Nick Voke, of Auckland, New Zealand, and Ruben Sondjaja, of Sydney, Australia, all tied for third at 11 under.

The leader after three rounds, Sondjaja stood 15 under through 71 holes after holing out from a greenside bunker at No. 17. The 2017 Iowa State graduate then hit two tee balls out of bounds on the 18th for a quadruple bogey.

Voke, also a 2017 graduate of Iowa State, is in match play for the first time. Meanwhile, Hardy, a senior at Illinois, qualified for match play for a third time to join a short list of players to do so in the modern era of the tournament.

A celebrated junior player, Xiong continued his success as a college freshman. He was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and earned All-Pac 12 First Team honors. Xiong, the winner of the Junior PGA Championship, played a significant role in Oregon’s runner-up finish at the NCAA Division I Men’s National Championship.

But Xiong didn’t hesitate to call what he accomplished Thursday the biggest thrill of his career.

“For sure,” he said. “By far. To me, it’s this, the U.S. Amateur, probably the Northeast Amateur as the biggest tournaments in amateur golf.”

- Matt Harness/WGA