PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.—Devon Bling’s match play experience before this week was relegated to a pair of U.S Junior Amateur appearances. But his late mother, who passed away in 2013, always wanted Bling to play in USGA championships, “so playing in the US Amateur was a huge goal” for the 18-year-old UCLA rising sophomore.
The ultimate U.S. Amateur victory hopes to deliver in her memory is suddenly within reach as Bling finds himself in Saturday’s U.S. Amateur quarterfinals, the biggest stage of a career that is quickly blossoming after winning this spring’s Jackrabbit Invitational.
Bling, a wiry, athletic type with plenty of clubhead speed, defeated Shintaro Ban in the morning session before knocking off 2017 U.S. Amateur Champion Noah Goodwin on the 20th hole.
Bling hit 9-iron to tap-in range at Pebble Beach’s 516-yard second hole in a tense back-and-forth match. Early into the proceedings, Bling had been three-up but a series of tough breaks, including hitting the flagstick on the par-3 7th, led to some discouragement. Bling credited UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin, who has been caddying for match play, with lifting his spirits after making bogey.
“That’s the game right there for you,” Bling said. “I just knew at some point, me and my coach talked it over, that we were going to get paid back for that.”
The match pitted two young talented players under the watchful eye of agents, manufacturer representatives and Bling’s supportive family. Goodwin took the lead at the 14th when Bling’s third found a badly plugged lie. Pars won the 16th for Bling and the 17th for Goodwin, leading to the grand 18th hole stage. Goodwin laid up 60 yards short of the green with just enough of an overhanging tree to force a wedge shot 30 feet past a deceivingly difficult hole location. Goodwin three-putted from here after Bling played an aggressive second shot just short of the green, before missing a five-foot birdie putt.
Bling only recently turned 18 and comes from the non-golf mecca of Ridgewood, California where he grew up playing a military course thanks to his dad’s work with the Army Corps of Engineers. Bling had few expectations for the week after lackluster showings at the SCGA and California State Amateur, stating that he was just excited to be playing some great courses, but especially Pebble Beach where admitted to some extra special course knowledge research. With a smile.
“I played a little Tiger Woods PGA Tour on the PlayStation,” Bling said. “I played Pebble a couple times just to see how the course was. Looks a little different in person, but just to see the layout.”
Bling faces Alabama’s Davis Riley at 2:30 pm local time in Friday’s quarterfinal but already says this is a highlight in his very young career.
“It’s probably the biggest thing I’ve accomplished,” he said. “The job is not done yet, but I’m going to enjoy this moment right here getting to the quarterfinals and wake up tomorrow and be ready to go.”