UCLA’s Bling Earns Runner-Up Honors at U.S. Amateur
Devon Bling had only modest goals when he arrived at Pebble Beach in mid-August to play in his first U.S. Amateur Championship. The rising sophomore from UCLA simply wanted to get through two rounds of stroke play and qualify for the match-play portion of a tournament featuring 312 of the best amateur players in the game.
He did that. And so much more. As he has throughout this year, Bling showed that pressure situations are meant to be embraced and expectations are meant to be exceeded.
A two-under-par 70 in his second round of qualifying easily put him in the match-play field, and after a series of big putts and big shots over the next five rounds, Bling reached the final 36-hole match. That he ended up as 6-and-5 runner-up to Viktor Hovland of Norway was not as important as the simple fact that Bling, who finished seventh in the SCGA Amateur at La Jolla in July, proved he belonged among the elite.
“I had a really good week,” Bling said. “Still, when I go back to school, I won’t go out and expect to win every week just because I was runner-up in the U.S. Amateur. But I do have an added confidence that I can compete against the best amateur golfers in the world.”
Bling, 18, evolved from a freshman learning how to get by in college last fall to a much more seasoned player in the spring for the Bruins. His performance at the Jackrabbit Invitational in Nevada last March proved that. Playing the final round against the player he was fighting for the individual title and trailing by two with three holes to play, he birdied the sixteenth hole to move on top by one, put his tee shot a foot from the pin on the 200-yard 17th to go up by two, then hit the pin with his second shot on the par-four final hole, ended up with par and earned his first college tournament win.
“He has no problem being in the middle of the arena,” UCLA Coach Derek Freeman said. “And that’s one of the things I love about him. He realizes he has the ability to perform at the highest level. He doesn’t get too up or too down, he just fights and tries to get better.”
Said Bling: “During the school year, Coach Freeman and Coach Larkin [assistant coach Andrew Larkin, who caddied for Bling the last six days at Pebble] taught me about course management and so much more. They taught me how to score.”
In the Round of 16 at the Amateur, Bling found himself in a tight match against USGA Junior champion Noah Goodwin. On the 20th hole, the par-four second at Pebble, Bling hit this second shot from about 170 yards a foot from the hole to win the match.
“I love being in that situation,” Bling said, “feeling the pressure and the nerves where you have to make a putt, you have to hit it in the fairway and you just have to trust your golf swing.”
That sense of living in the moment and believing in yourself was something Bling learned in part from his mother Sara, who died suddenly in 2013 after suffering a stroke. She and Bling’s father Nick have been instrumental in shaping his game from the days toddler Devon began swinging a plastic golf club after watching his father hit golf balls in the garage at their home in Ridgecrest.
“Even though she’s not physically here, she’s always with me,” Bling said. “I can feel her presence and I know she’s there with me. She always said, ‘Trust your game; trust what your dad has taught you. He’ll never fail you.’ And in those pressure situations, I listen to her.”