COAST-TO-COAST OPPORTUNITIES: Temple golfer Moon primed to compete in Junior Amateur, U.S. Amateur
READY FOR THE NATIONAL STAGE: 2022 Temple High School graduate Daniel Moon has qualified for two United States Golf Association events this summer. The 17-year-old incoming freshman at Sam Houston State will compete in the 74th U.S. Junior Amateur beginning Monday morning and continuing Tuesday afternoon at Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast. In mid-August, Moon will play in the 122nd U.S. Amateur at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey. After tying for eighth place in the Class 6A state tournament as a senior, Moon made 19 birdies in 54 holes during his USGA qualifiers in Fort Worth and Kerrville. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Daniel Moon produced several impressive accomplishments while playing golf for Temple High School. He won the District 12-6A championship this year and made two consecutive appearances in the Class 6A state tournament as a medalist, tying for eighth place as a senior.
Stellar performances in high school and on various junior tours helped Moon earn an NCAA Division I scholarship offer from Sam Houston State in Huntsville, which he solidified by signing with the Bearkats last November.
However, the 17-year-old Moon didn’t seize an opportunity to make an impact on amateur golf’s national stage until after graduating from Temple two months ago.
Following a barrage of birdies and steady play in pressure-packed qualifying events for two prestigious United States Golf Association championships, the battle-tested Moon is primed to test his game from one coast of the country to the other during the next few weeks.
On Monday, the former Wildcats standout begins competing in the 74th U.S. Junior Amateur – his first career USGA championship – on Monday morning at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. Then on Aug. 15, Moon will tee off in the 122nd U.S. Amateur at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey, just outside of New York City.
After racking up 19 birdies in 54 holes of USGA qualifying in Fort Worth and Kerrville, the 5-foot-8, 130-pound Moon is fired up to travel and compete against many of the best amateur players not only in the country but also the world.
“These two events, I mean . . . I was talking to a few people and they said it was pretty rare to go into the U.S. Junior Amateur and the U.S. Amateur in the same year, because you can only go to the Junior Amateur until you’re 18. So this will probably be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Moon, who turns 18 in August.
“It’s awesome going all the way out to Oregon and then going all the way to the East Coast. I’m kind of just going around the nation, so it’s going to be a treat, for sure. I’m ready for it and excited for it as well.”
Moon is one of 264 golfers who will shoot to advance from two rounds of stroke play into the 64-player bracket of match play at famed Bandon Dunes, a rugged links-style course hard against the Pacific coast in southwestern Oregon.
Competing alongside incoming Northwestern freshman Akshay Anand of Redmond, Washington and Miami (Ohio) signee Michael Weber from Ontario, Canada, Moon will tee off on the 10th hole of the original Bandon Dunes course at 8:32 a.m. PDT Monday. On Tuesday, that trio will begin on hole No. 1 at Bandon Trails – one of the sprawling resort’s five 18-hole courses – at 1:47 p.m. PDT.
The event’s top 64 players survive and advance to match play on the original Bandon Dunes course, beginning with 32 win-or-go-home matches on Wednesday and culminating with Saturday’s 36-hole championship match.
While discussing his goals and expectations for his USGA debut, Moon said Thursday afternoon that making it into match play is the only specific thing in his sights. For him, continuing to play aggressive-but-smart golf is the primary focus.
“Going into this tournament, I don’t have to have any expectations besides making it to match play. I just think of it as I’ve got nothing to lose,” Moon said by phone from Marysville, California, where he tied for 30th place out of 48 players in the American Junior Golf Association’s three-round AJGA Junior at Peach Tree in the Sacramento area. “I mean, I’ve done it all the way here. That’s the way I want to think of it going into the event.”
One of 17 Texans in the field (25 countries are represented), Moon will strive to join a list of U.S. Junior Amateur winners that includes three-time champion Tiger Woods and two-time champ Jordan Spieth along with Johnny Miller, David Duval and reigning Masters winner Scottie Scheffler, the world’s No. 1-ranked player.
Although Moon shot a 7-over-par 223 total in his AJGA event in California, he feels confident that the form he displayed in his USGA qualifiers will lead him to a successful performance at Bandon Dunes.
“I’m looking forward to mainly just carrying the momentum from the qualifiers and just playing well in general lately to the U.S. Junior, and hopefully I can do well and then carry that over to the U.S. Amateur,” said Moon, who’s traveling with his parents.
Moon also qualified for and competed in the 113th Texas Amateur in mid-June at Willow Brook Country Club in Tyler. Rounds of 72 and 73 left him one shot on the wrong side of the 36-hole cut line – exactly the same result as 2021 Belton graduate and current Texas A&M golfer Dallas Hankamer, Moon’s former friendly rival in high school.
“I missed the cut at the Texas Amateur, but that was a really good experience. Usually the only time I get to play with (elite) amateurs is the U.S. Amateur or U.S. Open qualifying,” Moon said. “So playing in an actual tournament more than one day with those guys and seeing how they play and what it takes to make the cut and win was a big experience for me. That set my mind on what I needed to do through junior events as well as amateur events and looking forward to college events.”
BREAKTHROUGH SUMMER: After shooting a 3-under-par 141 total to share eighth place in May's Class 6A state tournament in Georgetown, Temple High School's Daniel Moon competed in the Texas Amateur in Tyler and qualified for his first two USGA championships: the U.S. Junior Amateur at Bandon Dunes in Oregon and the U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood in New Jersey. "I'm kind of just going around the nation, so it's going to be a treat, for sure. I'm ready for it and excited for it as well," said Moon, who next month will turn 18 and report to Sam Houston State to join the Bearkats golf program. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Moon never qualified for a USGA championship while in high school, but he finally broke through on June 13 in the U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier at Diamond Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth. After getting his first look at the course in a practice round, Moon fired a 4-under 66 with six birdies to share medalist honors with Dallas' Preston Stout, whom he battled during the 6A state tournament at Legacy Hills in Georgetown, and earn his trip to Bandon Dunes. They paced a group of six qualifiers.
Moon credited his sharp performance to getting himself in the right frame of mind.
“I just told myself, ‘Give it a shot. If you shoot under par, you’re good. If you get beat shooting under par, you get beat. There’s nothing else you can do,’” Moon said. “That’s the thought process of it. Think on the positive side.”
Narrowly missing the Texas Amateur cut a few days later did nothing to slow Moon’s momentum and confidence.
In the 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifier at Kerrville’s Riverhill Country Club on July 11, Moon overcame his previous lack of success at that course to make 13 birdies and shoot back-to-back 4-under 68s while contending with not only a deep, talented field but also heat and a rain delay. He edged two players by one stroke for the qualifier’s third and final berth for the U.S. Amateur.
“I wasn’t even expecting much going into that qualifier. The field was stacked, and qualifying in Texas for anything isn’t the easiest thing. There’s so many good players in Texas. It’s just not easy,” Moon said. “You’re going to have to have one of those miracle rounds. It’s the exact same thing as going through a Monday qualifier. It was just (a matter of) pulling through in the heat.
“I had a caddie, my (Temple-based) putting coach Chris McMillan, and he really helped me through a lot of the putting and getting through the golf course, because he was a member there and knows that course very well,” he added. “The weird thing was I don’t really putt too well on bent-grass greens. I’m not really comfortable (on them). But I managed to pull through that day and made the putts I needed to, the 12- to 15-footers that came along. That kind of thing just kept me going. I never did play well there, but that changed and I can finally say I played well there.”
After persevering and earning his trip to New Jersey, Moon made sure to savor the major achievement that he’s been working toward for more than a decade.
“It was an experience, for sure. Qualifying in Texas is not easy. It’s extremely tough,” he said. “The fact that I pulled through and did it was a big accomplishment for me.”
Two golf coaches have been particularly excited about Moon’s USGA qualifying success this summer: Temple coach Allen Roark and Sam Houston State head men’s coach Brandt Kieschnick.
“I always tell Coach Roark my schedule and text him after tournaments and let him know how it goes. He’s always been supportive,” said Moon, who in 2021 became the first Temple player to compete in the University Interscholastic League state golf tournament. “It’s still the same way. He still supports me throughout these great events and I’m very grateful for that. It’s pretty cool.”
On the college front, Kieschnick certainly likes that an incoming freshman is set to compete in two USGA national championships on his way to Huntsville.
“I got a call from Coach Kieschnick right after the tournament when I made it,” Moon said about his U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier. “We both can’t wait for me to get there and do it for the team and for the school. I can’t wait. We’re both really excited.”
Kieschnick is a 1999 Sam Houston State graduate who was paired with eventual champion Woods in the first two rounds of the 1995 U.S. Amateur. The former Bearkats golf standout already has helped Moon improve his knowledge of course strategy.
“It’s the course management stuff he’s taught me so far. One of the main things is where to miss the ball and leave yourself in the best position,” said Moon, who was unsure whether he’ll have to miss any college classes while competing in the U.S. Amateur in late August. “That really helped me through these last few tournaments – knowing where to miss it, knowing my misses and narrowing out the bad holes. That’s a good thing. I’ve held on to that for the past few tournaments. It kind of changed my mentality.”
Mixing reliable ball-striking and a sound short game with an improved mental approach has allowed Moon to put together the best stretch of golf in his young life – just in time for the most prestigious events he’s ever played.
“The game’s been fine for a few months now. Even when I wasn’t playing well, I was striking the ball well and putting well. I think it was just the mental aspect to thinking about it in a different way. It was more, ‘Go out there and you’ve got nothing to lose. Just put up a round, put up a number. No pressure throughout the entire round,’” Moon said. “I felt really comfortable in those two (USGA) qualifiers. It was probably the most comfortable I’ve been on a golf course. Everything was just free and seemed to match up like a puzzle.”
Ever since Moon qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur 1½ months ago, he’s become a keen student of the two Oregon courses he’ll compete on: Bandon Dunes, the David McLay Kidd-designed, windswept seaside links that opened the popular resort in 1999; and Bandon Trails, a 2005 Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw layout that differs from Bandon’s other courses in that it isn’t set along the sea, instead playing through meadows and a forest as it weaves through wild, heaving dunes.
“It’s mainly a bunch of YouTube videos and flyovers of the golf courses. Usually for better courses like that, they’ll have architects talk about the golf course and the main conditions, how it usually plays and how it’s supposed to be played,” Moon said about his preparation. “It’s cool listening to those things and planning ahead for what you need to practice on.
“I’ve heard people say it’s exactly what you would expect from a links-style golf course. I can’t wait,” he added. “I prefer the wind, so I’ll probably like Dunes a lot better (than Trails), I bet. I like tough way more.”
Moon was scheduled to play a practice round at Bandon Dunes on Saturday and another at Bandon Trails on Sunday after playing Bandon Preserve – Coore and Crenshaw’s 13-hole par-3 course – on Friday. Moon said his practice rounds will help him determine how aggressively he’ll play during the tournament rounds as he contends to get into the low 64 and advance to the match play portion.
“Usually in the practice round I’ll play as aggressively as I can, because that brings out where you can miss it and where you can’t. And usually if you start out aggressive, you can figure your way out to play more a little bit more conservative,” Moon said. “I’ll probably start off the practice round as aggressive as I can and just hit driver for almost every fairway and go at every pin. If it’s the other way around, I can always grab another golf ball and hit to a conservative spot where it’s a lot safer and a bit of an easier golf shot.”
Belton graduate and current Texas A&M golfer William Paysse also played Bandon Dunes and Bandon Trails in 2020 when he competed in the first of his back-to-back U.S. Amateurs.
A newcomer to links golf, Moon said he’s watched the 2020 U.S. Amateur championship match – in which Tyler Strafaci defeated Charles Osborne – several times to observe how the top players navigated the challenges of the rugged Bandon Dunes track.
“It’s just seeing and visualizing what a golf ball would do on each hole. It’s good to see some really talented players play that golf course,” he said. “In links golf it’s almost the same in the morning and the afternoon, because that wind doesn’t stop. At Bandon, right under the grass is sand. If rain comes down, it goes straight to the bottom and it’s always dry. I’ve heard it’s pretty cool out there.”
The Bandon forecast for Monday and Tuesday puts temperatures in the upper 50s to mid-60s. Moon joked about packing his suitcase for cool weather while still dealing with the scorching Central Texas heat.
“Yeah, it was odd because when we were packing it was like 105 degrees and we were packing for winter already,” he said, laughing. “We packed a bunch of rain gear, rain pants, weather gloves and stuff like that, just to keep warm. I believe we’re more than prepared for any type of weather.
“The reason we played in this (AJGA event in California) was to acclimate to the weather and to get used to the (Pacific) time zone, because that can be very stressful right before a tournament.”
Moon said he planned to use a local caddie who knows the Bandon Dunes courses well during the U.S. Junior Amateur, though he’s not sure whether McMillan or someone else will be his caddie for the U.S. Amateur next month in New Jersey.
“The good thing about having a caddie is it makes you really commit to a golf shot,” Moon said. “When you and another person agree to something you strongly think is right, it gives you that extra boost of confidence for the golf shot.”
Moon enjoys the unique 1-on-1 challenge that is match play competition, which gives him extra incentive to perform well in Oregon and also New Jersey.
“It’s definitely a complete mental game when it comes to match play,” he said. “Anything can happen. You really don’t know.”
Moon’s journey to New Jersey next month will include one round of stroke play at Ridgewood Country Club – site of several PGA Tour events – and another at adjacent Arcola Country Club. The top 64 players in the 312-player field will reach match play competition at Ridgewood beginning Aug. 17 and concluding Aug. 20.
Another source of motivation for Moon during his stellar run of summer golf is the possibility of getting to play on national television, something he’d achieve by advancing to the Junior Amateur semifinals and/or match play in the U.S. Amateur.
“Hopefully I can do well and people can watch me from home,” Moon said. “That would be a treat, for sure."