MANATEE -- The harder the golf course, the more Philip Knowles and Luke Miller relish the challenge.
Knowles, a Bradenton Christian rising senior, and Miller, a Pennsylvania native who helped Lakewood Ranch win its third consecutive state championship last fall, qualified for the U.S. Amateur recently.
Knowles took his chance at the difficult Old Corkscrew venue in Estero. The golf course, which is a Jack Nicklaus design, boasts a staggeringly high course rating of 77.6 and a slope rating of 153 from the tips (back tees). The course rating shows what a scratch golfer is expected to shoot.
Old Corkscrew's competitive course record from 7,150 yards, about 200 yards shy of the back tees, is 69, which came in a U.S. Open local qualifier.
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Consequently, Knowles entered the 36-hole Amateur qualifier with only two berths awarded. Knowles, though, grinded his way to a 70-74--144 to advance to his first U.S. Amateur, which is scheduled for Aug. 11-17 at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
"All you have to do is shoot par, and you get in (on a tough qualifying course)," Knowles said. "And that's what I did. I just love golf courses that you have to hit golf shots. You have to hit a lot of greens. You've got to hit good putts to play well."
The marquee amateur tournament has been won by Bradenton golfers in the recent past.
Ben An, who attended the now defunct Bradenton Prep, and former IMG Academy golfer Peter Uihlein each won the national amateur championship and the Masters invitation that comes with it.
Knowles said he prefers match play and is excited for this year's tournament.
"Match play is where I thrive," said Knowles, who finished runner-up in last year's Florida State Golf Association Amateur Match Play Championship. "I tend to play really well in it."
Knowles also said he has worked on a swing change that has clicked this summer. The alteration is getting the club more on plane on his takeaway, because he was getting into the habit of coming over the top on his poor swings, resulting in either a fade or pull shot off target.
Meanwhile, Miller hasn't done much with his swing since the summer began. Instead, he has logged several tournament rounds and nearly qualified for the U.S. Junior the week prior to making it through the U.S. Amateur qualifier held in New Castle, Pa., with a 140 total.
"I was playing well, and then on the back nine I knew I had to make a couple more birdies," Miller said. "And I was able to make three birdies on my final nine. It was nerve-wracking coming down the stretch because I knew I had a chance. I knew I was going to be in it, but I kept my composure pretty well and was able to play solid golf."
Miller has his own personal history with the U.S. Amateur. In 2010 when Uihlein captured the title at Chambers Bay in Washington, Miller was in attendance to watch his older brother, William, take part in the prestigious tournament.
This year, William will return the favor by caddying for Luke, who is arriving early for some extra practice before the course is shut down for a week ahead of the grueling event.
"In stroke play, you are just always grinding out there to get every shot out of your round that day," Luke Miller said. "With match play, you can't get too down on yourself. You have to stay positive, because if you have a bad hole you can come back with a birdie and be all-square in the match. You've got to find a way to play the other person's game. If they make a mistake, you've got to do something to give yourself the best opportunity to win that hole."