University of Arkansas junior transfer Segundo Oliva Pinto lost in heartbreaking fashion on the 18th hole in his match with Georgia Tech's Tyler Strafaci in the round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur Championship on Thursday evening.
Oliva Pinto's caddie knelt down and swiped his hand in the wind-crusted sand in the green-side bunker, a rules violation and automatic hole-conceding move that gave Strafaci a 1-up victory at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore.
Oliva Pinto had made up a two-hole deficit in the preceding five holes but did not get a chance to hit his fourth shot out of the sand trap on the par-5, 524-yard closing hole on the Bandon Dunes Course. Strafaci had mishit his approach and left it well short of the green prior to the rules violation.
Strafaci, a senior from Davie, Fla., eliminated both remaining Razorbacks on Thursday, as he downed junior Julian Perico 2 & 1 earlier in the day with a hot back nine.
Oliva Pinto had advanced to the round of 16 with a 2 & 1 win over No. 8 seed McClure Meissner of SMU.
Oliva Pinto was scanning the green and determining where he wanted to land his shot when the illegal touch occurred. Neither players nor their caddies can test a surface prior to a shot.
"I wasn't looking at it," Oliva Pinto told the Golf Channel. "I was just near the flag, trying to get a good read on where I wanted the ball to bounce and everything.
"As soon as I get back there, the referee comes up and asks my caddie what happened, and I'm completely shocked. I'm just trying to get this shot near, get an up and down and win the match. Apparently he touched the sand, and that's a penalty, it's a hole, and the match ended there."
Strafaci's father, who was serving as his caddie, could clearly be heard on the Golf Network telecast protesting the caddie's action as a USGA rules official sorted out the ruling.
Strafaci was diplomatic after the match.
"I just feel so bad for him," Strafaci told the Golf Channel. "That was one of the best matches I've ever played. It was back and forth. He's a great kid. We both played great, and for that to happen I feel really bad for him."
The two were never separated by more than two holes.
After halving the first three holes with pars, Strafaci seized the lead when Oliva Pinto double bogeyed the par-4 4th hole.
Strafaci's birdie on the 7th gave him a 2-up lead.
Ollva Pinto made up the deficit on consecutive holes wrapping around the turn. He birdied the 575-yard 9th while Strafaci made par, then he birdied the par-4 10th to even the match.
The tie didn't last long, as Strafaci's pars on Nos. 11 and 12 gave him consecutive wins for a 2-up advantage.
Oliva Pinto got back within one when he rolled in a birdie putt from 5 feet, then Strafaci missed a 2-footer on the par-5 13th in a gust of wind.
The Argentinian forged a tie three holes later when Strafaci bogeyed No. 16.
Strafaci, the grandson of 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Frank Strafaci, advanced to face 29-year-old Stewart Hagestad of Newport Beach, Calif., in today's quarterfinals.
In the morning round, Oliva Pinto sank a clutch birdie putt on No. 17 to close out Meissner.
Oliva Pinto's three-shot lead had dwindled to one before he put the match away on the 17th for a 2 & 1 victory over Meissner, a senior and two-time All-American.
Perico could not match the late birdie binge by Strafaci in their morning round of 32 match.
Perico, the No. 9 seed after stroke play, led by two holes through the 10th before Strafaci posted three birdies and an eagle over the next seven holes to take command.
Perico, of Peru, got up quickly on Strafaci, who posted a double bogey on No. 1, but won the 2nd hole due to Perico's bogey.
Perico birdied the par-3 6th hole, then took a 2-up lead with a birdie on No. 10.
Strafaci rebounded to win three consecutive holes with a birdie-par-eagle stretch on Nos. 11-13. Perico forged a tie on the 15th with a par opposite Strafaci's bogey.
But Strafaci was not to be denied. He birdied the par-4 16th hole to take the lead, then closed out the match with his birdie on the 17th, his fifth of the round.