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U.S. Amateur as much of a mental test as an evaluation of great shotmaking

A player can’t win the U.S. Amateur golf championship simply by staying calm under the wilting pressure that builds throughout the competition. He’ll still have to hit shots that seem to get more difficult as the week wears on.

But a player can get knocked out of the tournament if he lets his mind wander, even for just a few moments. The tournament is a relentless test of shotmaking, but perhaps the greater challenge may be avoiding the psychological hazards that can be as costly as any bunkers or out-of-bounds markers.

The 117th U.S. Amateur begins Monday at Riviera and Bel-Air Country Clubs, where 312 of the world’s best not-yet-professionals will play 18 holes on each course over two days. The low 64 scorers then will move on to match play at Riviera, where the field will be whittled daily until two golfers remain for next Sunday’s 36-hole final.

It’s essentially two tournaments in one: Stroke play over the first two days will eliminate almost four-fifths of the field. Then the one-on-one, single-elimination match play will leave one champion Sunday afternoon.

Jonah Texeira, one of six golfers from this year’s USC team in the field, paid the price of letting his mind leave the moment. He reached the semifinals in last year’s Amateur at Oakland Hills in Michigan after cruising through four matches with easy victories. He was calm through the first half of his semifinal match against Brad Dalke from Oklahoma.

“Then I suddenly realized where I was and the tournaments I’d be exempted to if I stuck with it, going to the Masters and the U.S. Open,” Texeira, 21, said. “I started thinking about the outcome rather than the present. That was my downfall.”

Texeira, two up after nine holes, lost 3 and 2.

“If I get in that situation again,” Texeira said, “I’ll recognize it, and I’ll be able to deal with it.”

Cal junior Collin Morikawa, of La Cañada Flintridge,…

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