Rhea will be playing in his second U.S. Amateur next month and, like his first, it will be at an alluring venue.
The U.S. Amateur will be played Aug. 10-16 at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. It’s a destination resort that is on many golfers’ bucket list.
Rhea previously played in the U.S. Am at Pebble Beach.
“I’ve gotten pretty lucky on the courses I’ve gotten to play,” said Rhea, who will be a senior at East Tennessee State in the fall.
The U.S. Golf Association canceled all qualifying for the U.S. Amateur because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the field is being filled by an exemption list. One of the criteria to get in was a player being in the top 225 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Rhea is 175th on the list.
“I’m really happy to not have to go through some kind of qualifying,” said Rhea, who qualified with one shot to spare to make the field at Pebble Beach in 2018.
A Jonesborough native who played at Science Hill, Rhea worked his way up the rankings list during his junior year at ETSU. He finished in the top 15 in five of seven tournaments, including winning the Bucs’ home tournament, the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at Blackthorn Club, on the course where he grew up. He was an honorable mention All-American after a season that ended with a stroke average of 71.49.
Shiso Go, an ETSU teammate of Rhea’s, is ranked 212th in the world and will be in the U.S. Amateur field as well.
“It represents the program well,” Rhea said.
Another ETSU player, Archie Davies, is ranked 244th and Bucs coach Jake Amos is hoping he might get in as an alternate.
In the 2018 U.S. Amateur, Rhea shot 69 on the second day of stroke play qualifying to finish 10th. He advanced to match play.
Rhea’s latest tournament was last week’s North & South at Pinehurst in North Carolina, where he missed a spot in match play in a playoff. Four players were tied for the final spot and Rhea’s par on the playoff hole wasn’t good enough when a birdie was carded.
“The playoff is kind of a crapshoot,” he said. “I was more just disappointed that I didn’t play well enough to make it in outright.”
Before the U.S. Amateur, Rhea will play in the Western Amateur, another tournament that starts with medal play and ends in match play. That one is being played July 27-Aug. 1 at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana, the same course where John Daly became a legend by winning the 1991 PGA Championship as the ninth alternate.
Rhea’s summer schedule is fuller than he anticipated. The coronavirus pandemic resulted in several tournaments being canceled on the heels of his college season being scrapped.
“A month or two ago I didn’t know if I’d be playing in anything this summer,” Rhea said. “It’s nice that I’ve got a few good tournaments that ended up still happening.”
The courses at Bandon Dunes are some of the few true links-style courses in the United States, meaning it takes a different brand of golf for players to succeed.
“I don’t know a ton about the golf course,” Rhea said. “Obviously I’ve heard a lot of things and I’ve seen some pictures. It’s different, but it will be fun.”
The field of 264 players will be cut to 64 for match play after two rounds of medal play. The champion and runner-up at the U.S. Amateur traditionally receive an invitation to the following year’s Masters, provided they remain amateur.