The “Isaiah Salinda Train” got off to a fast start in today’s quarterfinal match at the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. Before his opponent, Will Gordon, could blink, Salinda had won four of the first five holes.
It happened so fast, and so innocently.
He has his friend and former Stanford teammate Bradley Knox as his caddie this week, and it was Knox who was also on his bag during Salinda’s victory last month at the Pacific Coast Amateur.
On the first hole, Gordon put his tee shot just slightly into the left rough, and his second shot just trickled into the back-right fringe. But he would 3-putt from 25 feet. Salinda 1-up.
The second hole, a long par 4, Salinda put his tee shot into the left fairway bunker, and from there put his second shot into the right greenside bunker. Meanwhile, Gordon had blistered a drive dead center, 170 yards from the flag, but he pulled his second shot into the left greenside bunker. He couldn’t get up and down, but Salinda did. Salinda 2-up.
They halved the third hole with pars.
The 331-yard fourth hole, and Salinda pulled out a driver. With the opening to the green just six steps wide, with bunkers all over the place and Carmel Bay on the right, he drilled it straight as a string to the front apron of the green. Gordon followed suit, putting his tee shot four steps ahead of Salinda’s. From there, Salinda nearly holed his chip, settling for a birdie. Gordon rolled his chip three feet past the hole and lipped out the comebacker. Salinda 3-up.
The tees back on the 193-yard par-3 fifth. Salinda safely on, while Gordon pulls his tee shot into the back-left bunker. He then blasted over the green, with a bunker rake stopping his ball from going into the ocean. Salinda 4-up.
The sixth hole was halved with pars.
It was on the iconic 109-yard par-3 seventh that Gordon found his footing. With both players safely on the putting surface, Salinda missed his 20-foot birdie try, and Gordon stepped up and drained his 12-footer. Salinda now 3-up.
On the par-4 eighth, over the ocean inlet, Salinda put his 184-yard 9-iron into the right bunker, and couldn’t get up and down. Salinda now 2-up.
On the ninth, Salinda pulled his second shot left into the rough, and then flopped his pitch over the green. His lead was now just 1-up.
On the par-4 10th, Gordon, looking to continue his charge, swung hard at a driver and pushed it over the cliff. Seeing that, Salinda hit a 3-iron into the middle of the fairway. Gordon took a penalty, took a drop, and took the loss on the hole. Salinda back to 2-up.
On the 11th, Gordon took the hole when Salinda couldn’t get up and down from the back fringe. Salinda now just 1-up.
They halved the next few holes.
It was on the par-4 16th that Salinda hit the shot of the match. With 150 yards to the flag from the middle of the fairway, Salinda, hitting directly into the setting sun, swung a 9-iron, with the ball coming to rest four inches from the hole. He was now 2-up with two to play. Dormie.
On the par-3 17th, both players made par, and that was it.
Salinda advances to the semifinal matches of the first USGA national championship he has ever played in. He’s playing like a veteran, like a babe in the woods, like a young man on a mission, like someone who belongs.