Three days before the U.S. Amateur began, Aman Gupta was within the bubble at Bandon Dunes so he could prepare for the biggest tournament of the year.
The only issue was he didn’t have a place in the event. Even with 264 players in the field, the importance of this year’s U.S. Am in a somewhat barren competitive landscape made it uncertain Gupta would get in as first alternate. Fortunately for him, world No. 2 Ricky Castillo withdrew because of illness unrelated to COVID-19, which opened a coveted spot.
“I knew when I flew out Thursday as first alternate, with all the craziness that is happening in the world right now, there was a fairly good chance I was going to get in,” Gupta said. “When I got here, it was business as usual. I got the call Friday afternoon and everything was back to normal.”
Gupta, a 21-year-old rising junior at Oklahoma State, has taken full advantage of the opportunity. He opened stroke play with seven birdies in nine holes to shoot 7-under 64, even making all pars on his closing nine. It broke the course record at Bandon Trails, which was broken again a day later by medalist Wilson Furr.
He collected another five birdies in his second round and cruised into the 64-player match-play bracket as the fifth seed. Gupta’s barrage hasn’t ended there, as he unloaded another six birdies Wednesday afternoon against Florida Gulf Coast University’s Van Holmgren to advance, 3 and 2.
Gupta’s coach at Oklahoma State, Alan Bratton, served as caddie for Cowboy teammate Austin Eckroat during stroke play but now has switched to Gupta’s bag in match play after Eckroat missed the cut.
“My game has been pretty solid, following the same game plan as stroke play,” Gupta said. “Having coach Bratton on the bag was definitely nice for some different strategies and different reads.”
While Gupta is the No. 500 amateur in the world and a relative unknown, it’s clear that he possesses the type of extra gear on display this week. In 2017 he reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur and was intent on turning professional that fall. He got through the first stage of Q-School with both the European Tour and Korn Ferry Tour, but ended up with only Challenge Tour status and decided to remain an amateur.
In choosing college instead, Gupta found himself buried on the depth chart behind the likes of eventual PGA Tour winners Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland. However, he won the Southern Plains Intercollegiate his freshman year, and this spring came one stroke short of a playoff at the Amer Ari Invitational, a loaded college event similar to the Sunnehanna Amateur in terms of field strength.
The most fascinating part of Gupta’s story is the journey that led him to Oklahoma State.
His father, Kapil, was born in India and raised in Toronto before moving to North Carolina, where Gupta and his younger brother, Abhay, were raised. Although the two inherited some of their dad’s Canadian influence in becoming talented hockey players and avid Carolina Hurricanes fans, both developed into even better golfers. Last May, 14-year-old Abhay became the youngest player to compete in a Mackenzie Tour event. He won’t graduate high school until 2023, but he is among the top-ranked juniors in his class and is talented enough to test his older brother.
“We are always out on the golf course playing matches and we’re about to get into a fight every single time,” Gupta said. “There were times when our dad had to pull us off each other because we just don’t like losing to each other.
“We’ve had a pretty cool relationship because we’re both very confident and fairly arrogant people, so when that comes out on the golf course, it comes out in full form.”
Their dad is more well-known in the sports world than both of them combined. The elder Gupta spent most of his career as a pathologist before becoming a mental performance coach with athletes such as Masters champion Mike Weir and four-time Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser. For the uninitiated, Wickenheiser is nothing short of royalty in Canada, having been inducted recently into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
He was born in South Carolina, raised in North Carolina, lived in West Virginia for a brief time and attended first grade onward in the area near Charlotte, North Carolina.
He is a recurring guest on Mark Immelman’s PGA Tour radio show, dishing advice about the psychology of confidence and self-belief. He speaks in grand metaphors, counter to what many view as traditional for a sports psychologist. In one article on his website, Gupta writes:
“Whatever you have achieved in your life is minuscule. Whatever success you take pride in is limiting. For the time that you spent being prideful could have been spent achieving 10 times more. There is perhaps no greater limiting factor in a man’s life than society and his peers. Because they place socially acceptable limits upon him. They are the nail in his coffin.
“This is why there is parity in almost every sport.”
It should come as little surprise that Aman Gupta is mentally sharp on the golf course, unwilling to take any small detail for granted. With his dad preaching focus and humility throughout his life, he has adopted many of those lessons himself.
“A lot of things he talks about, that’s all I know because it’s how I was raised,” Gupta said. “I’ll listen to him sometimes and it’s interesting because the way he’ll say it to me is not the way he’ll say it in some of the talk shows. He’s a very unique individual, for sure.”
That diverse background has brought Gupta to many places. He was born in South Carolina, raised in North Carolina, lived in West Virginia for a brief time and attended first grade onward in the area near Charlotte, North Carolina. In high school, he switched to online classes because of how often he was traveling the country to play in golf tournaments.
But what he has in front of him at the U.S. Amateur on the coast of Oregon could represent some of the best golf he’s ever played.
“When you are on the water looking out, it’s almost like the air is cleaner out here and you’re more relaxed,” Gupta said.
It sure looks that way. And if all goes to plan, he hopes to be the last one standing later this week.
Top: Aman Gupta. Photo: Jeff Haynes, USGA
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