THE BIG STAGE: Aided by Junior Amateur experience, Temple grad Moon ready to compete in U.S. Amateur
WORKING AT HOME: 2022 Temple High School graduate Daniel Moon practices chipping at Sammons Golf Course on Wednesday morning. The two-time Class 6A state tournament qualifier begins the 122nd U.S. Amateur on Monday in Paramus, New Jersey, near New York City. The 17-year-old incoming freshman at Sam Houston State will play Arcola Country Club on Monday afternoon and The Ridgewood Country Club on Tuesday morning before the 312-player field is cut to 64 for match play starting Wednesday at Ridgewood. Moon competed in the U.S. Junior Amateur, his first career USGA event, in late July at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
When Daniel Moon traveled to the coast of southwest Oregon in late July, his competitive goal for the U.S. Junior Amateur at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort was to advance from two rounds of stroke play and get himself into match play.
Although the 17-year-old Moon finished the event on a strong note with five birdies to highlight an even-par 71 at Bandon Trails, the opening 7-over 79 he shot on Bandon Dunes one day earlier created too deep a hole for the 2022 Temple High School graduate to climb out of.
However, Moon did not depart from his first career United States Golf Association championship feeling like he had failed. Not at all, actually.
Instead, the incoming freshman student and golfer at Sam Houston State soaked up the all-around experience and returned to Central Texas determined to use it as motivation to get better and keep adding positive momentum to his burgeoning career.
“It was a great experience. I think just being at Bandon was a win itself,” Moon said Wednesday morning on the back patio at Temple’s Sammons Golf Course, his home track. “Just the experience there made me realize how good you have to be and what college golf is going to be like. I think it helped me improve my game.”
Soon enough, Moon will report to Sam Houston State’s campus in Huntsville for his first college classes. Before that, though, he has important business to attend to in the New York City area.
To be specific, he’s competing in the most prestigious event of his young life: the 122nd U.S. Amateur in Paramus, New Jersey.
On Monday, Moon plays at Arcola Country Club at 12:39 p.m. CDT in the first round of stroke play. On Tuesday, he moves to The Ridgewood Country Club – just a few blocks away from Arcola – for a tee time at 7:24 a.m. CDT.
Out of the 7,749 entries the USGA accepted for the U.S. Amateur, only 312 players qualified to compete in the world’s most high-profile amateur championship. And among those, only 64 will survive and advance to the event’s match play portion at Ridgewood, which begins Wednesday and concludes next Sunday with the 36-hole championship match.
For Moon, the goal in his second USGA event isn’t any different than the goal in his first. He wants to be among the last 64 players standing when stroke play ends, which would bring the opportunity to test his match play skills against the best.
“That’s the main goal, because once you get to match play, everything is all square. There’s nobody who has a lead of any amount of shots,” said the 5-foot-8, 130-pound Moon, who maintains a gaudy +4.4 USGA GHIN index. “It’s literally you just play and who knows how far you could go in match play. I’m looking forward to it.”
Moon flew from Austin to New York with his 21-year-old brother, David, on Friday. Their parents began the long drive to New Jersey on Wednesday night, with Daniel’s golf clubs and other gear in tow for safety purposes.
Moon’s playing partners Monday and Tuesday are Gunnar Broin, a Colorado State golfer who’s from Chanhassen, Minnesota, and Kai Hirayama, an incoming high school senior from Arcadia, California. Broin advanced to match play in the 2021 U.S. Amateur at venerable Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, as did Belton graduate and Temple resident William Paysse, now a Texas A&M golfer.
RUN OF SUCCESS: Temple High School product Daniel Moon, 17, has enjoyed plenty of success during the past few months. He tied for eighth place in May's Class 6A state tournament in Georgetown with a 3-under-par 141 total, competed in the Texas Amateur in Tyler and shot a 4-under 66 in Fort Worth to qualify for the U.S. Junior Amateur in Bandon, Oregon. Moon fired back-to-back 4-under 68s at Kerrville's Riverhill Country Club on July 11 to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, which the incoming Sam Houston State freshman golfer will begin Monday in Round 1 of stroke play in Paramus, New Jersey. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Moon not only savored the experience he absorbed while playing the U.S. Junior Amateur; he also played the 13-hole Bandon Preserve short course and gladly accepted the wildly popular golf resort’s generous offer that allowed the tournament participants to play any and all courses on property at no extra cost.
Traveling with his mother and father, Moon didn’t have enough time to stay and play all five of the 18-hole courses at sprawling Bandon Dunes, but he did play Pacific Dunes, the Tom Doak-designed links-style layout that’s ranked as the country’s second-best public-access course, behind famed Pebble Beach in California.
Moon also made sure to try out the massive Punchbowl, the 100,000-square-foot putting green that features huge humps and dips and greets guests adjacent to the first tee at Pacific Dunes.
“Obviously I didn’t make the cut, but they actually gave us full access to every golf course there, so we ended up playing Pacific Dunes and then the Punchbowl,” Moon recalled. “(The Punchbowl) was packed. I didn’t know it was that big. It’s basically a real putt-putt course. That was really neat. Pacific Dunes was amazing. That’s probably the course that has the best views on almost every hole.”
In May, Moon completed his stellar four-year career as Temple’s No. 1 player for coach Allen Roark by making his second consecutive appearance in the University Interscholastic League Class 6A state tournament at Legacy Hills in Georgetown. With rounds of 71 and 70 for a 3-under 141 total, he shared eighth place in the 72-player field.
In a June 13 qualifier for the U.S. Junior Amateur, Moon fired a 4-under 66 at Diamond Oaks in Fort Worth to tie for the best score and advance to Bandon Dunes for his first USGA championship.
Later that week, Moon competed in the 113th Texas Amateur at Willow Brook in Tyler and shot 72-73, missing the cut by one stroke along with Belton graduate and current Texas A&M golfer Dallas Hankamer.
Then on July 11, Moon traveled to the one-day, 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifier at Riverhill Country Club in Kerrville, where he admittedly had not played well in previous tournaments. This time, however, he overcame not only a stacked field but also stifling heat and a rain delay to shoot back-to-back 4-under 68s.
With a birdie on his final hole, he earned the third and final berth and avoided having to go into a three-man playoff to decide it.
“I hadn’t (played well at Riverhill in the past). That was a shock. But once that second round started, it was just kind of pedal to the ground,” said Moon, who emerged from sudden-death playoffs at the 6A Region II tournament the last two years. “I was 2 over through two holes but after that shot 6 under from there. It was really just a grind. I made a birdie on the last hole and kind of thought to myself, ‘That might do it.’
“I was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to do this again,’ he added about potentially going into a playoff. “And those (closest pursuers) were like the last tee time, so the anticipation of those guys coming in was just the worst thing. I’m over here like, ‘Oh, man. Should I just go hit golf balls? I don’t know what’s going to happen.’”
Moon played in a three-round American Junior Golf Association tournament near Sacramento, California, in July before his family drove north to Bandon Dunes for the U.S. Junior Amateur. By the time he finished playing in Oregon, Moon was tired enough to sleep for almost the entire trip back to his Temple home.
“My dad drove straight himself. It took a day and a few hours, which I thought was impressive,” Moon said, smiling. “I woke up once, watched a little bit of Netflix, woke up again and we were home. My dad, he’s insane. He can drive so much without stopping.”
Since returning from Oregon, Moon essentially has been in rest-and-maintenance mode, making sure that his game is in good shape and that he’s as physically fresh as possible for the U.S. Amateur.
“I’ve actually been taking it a little bit easier, just hitting a few range balls here and there,” he said. “I’ll play 18 (holes for practice). I’ve been playing pretty good. The game is steady.”
Moon never made worse than a bogey in 36 holes in the U.S. Junior Amateur, but bogeys on six of his first seven holes in a windswept Round 1 at Bandon Dunes proved too much to overcome. He played his final 29 holes in a combined 1 over, recording five birdies – offset by five bogeys – in Round 2 on Bandon Trails.
“It was literally the luck of the draw. That was the main story of the whole entire tournament, was if you had a good tee times and no wind and you take advantage, you’re going to shoot under par no matter what. Both times I got hit with the wind. It was tough,” Moon said, adding that he had to adjust to swinging the club while wearing more clothing as temperatures hovered in the low 60s. “That 7-over round was a good 7-over round, especially starting 6 over on the front and then recovering.
“Even though I started out a little shaky, it wasn’t bad at all. I was still comfortable. I knew it was going to be one of those days where it was just trying not to make double (bogey) – survive and break 80. That was the thought that whole first round. To me, that first round was the biggest learning experience. It taught me to miss it in the right spot and taught me a lot about my game and how I didn’t let myself make big mistakes. That was a big thing for me.”
Moon’s usual caddie in big tournaments is his Temple-based coach Chris McMillan, who helps with putting and the mental game. Moon employed a regular Bandon Dunes caddie for all of his practice and competitive rounds in the Junior Amateur and said it required some adjustments to get on the same proverbial page.
“We had a few misinterpretations of the greens. I saw a few things differently than he did. He would see a little bit of a different speed, especially when the situation got a little rough,” Moon explained. “Other than that, he was a great guy. He knew all of that (other stuff) and we just worked our way through it and played pretty good.”
Moon is glad to have McMillan back on his bag for the U.S. Amateur, including practice rounds at Arcola on Saturday and Ridgewood on Sunday before he begins the championship’s stroke play portion Monday afternoon on Arcola’s first tee.
“Chris is a really good guy to get through the round with. He caddied for me in every single qualifier I played in – Diamond Oaks, Riverhill and the Texas Amateur. We have this kind of relationship you never get with anybody else,” said Moon, who on Friday flew from Austin to New York with his older brother, David. Their parents began driving to New Jersey on Wednesday night. “He says a number and you know exactly what type of shot you want to hit, and everything matches perfectly with what we think.
“The good thing about him is it’s never about golf all the way throughout the round. We’re laughing, we’re having fun and it just takes the mind off (of things). Then when we step into the shot, it’s all business. Then afterward, we’re thinking about something else. Sometimes if you get a house caddie, they don’t know that about you and what you like to talk about.”
Going into the U.S. Junior Amateur, Moon prepared to play the Bandon Dunes layouts by watching course videos on YouTube and elsewhere. He said he hadn’t been able to find as much material about 7,487-yard, par-71 Ridgewood, a 1929 A.W. Tillinghast design that Gil Hanse renovated in 2000, and 7,256-yard, par-70 Arcola, which opened in 1909.
Ridgewood has played host to several big-name events, including the 1935 Ryder Cup, the 1974 U.S. Amateur, the 1990 U.S. Senior Open, the 2001 Senior PGA Championship and PGA Tour playoff tournaments in 2008, 2010 and 2018.
From what Moon has been able to decipher in his research, both Ridgewood and Arcola are like many classic Northeast courses: tree-lined, well-manicured layouts with thick rough and bent grass greens. In other words, they don’t have much in common with the weather-beaten, links-style courses he competed on in Oregon.
As such, Moon said his practice rounds would be crucial for him and McMillan to learn the courses and develop a plan for success.
“I watched a few videos (of Ridgewood) on YouTube and some highlights. It looked like a (typical) northern course – obviously perfect conditions and everything bent grass,” Moon said. “It’s completely (different). At Bandon I was hitting 190-yard pitching wedges (with a helping wind).
“I’ve heard the rough is supposed to be really bad – thicker than ankle deep. I’ve heard they’re going to have two ball spotters on each side of the fairway, and that’s just for the first cut of rough. Judging from what I’ve seen on maps, Arcola is the shorter course and the easier one, I’d say. The fairways are a little bit wider and it’s less tree-lined.”
Moon is one of 23 Texans in a 312-player field that includes 11 past USGA champions and competitors from 29 countries, paced by 256 from the United States. The players’ ages range from 15 to 59.
The champion will receive the Havemeyer Trophy, invitations to the 2023 U.S. Open and Open Championship and most likely an invitation to the 2023 Masters if he remains an amateur. The runner-up also is likely to be invited to Augusta National next April if still an amateur.
Moon confirmed that if he had not qualified for the U.S. Amateur, he already would have moved to Sam Houston State to prepare for the start of classes and joining the Bearkats’ NCAA Division I golf program.
However, competing in his first U.S. Amateur and second USGA championship in a four-week span gives Moon a pretty good excuse for delaying his move to Huntsville, and he chuckled as he said Sam Houston coach Brandt Kieschnick certainly approves.
“The day I come back, I’ll sleep at my house and the next day I move in and that’s the first day of school,” he said.
Along with staying alive in the U.S. Amateur for as long as possible, Moon said he hoped to see some New York City landmarks such as Times Square before coming home and beginning his long-awaited college golf career.
“I really wish I can just keep the same momentum. That’s the main thing,” he said. “That’s how I played at Bandon. Obviously it could have been better, but I’m still proud of the way I played. In the Junior Amateur I got my first experience of what a USGA event is supposed to feel like. I think going to my first two USGA events, it’s just such good timing to go to both in the same year.”