Fabricio Gaxiola took to the putting green well after finishing his round, dropping two balls on the green, positioning his rail-thin arms parallel to his putter and flashing a wide smile as he loosely put in a couple extra reps while chatting with a young observer.
Gaxiola, the teenager from Mexico who graduates high school in 2020, toppled his match-play opponent in just 12 holes at the 65th annual International Junior Masters at East Aurora Country Club on Wednesday. In the Round of 32, that was the quickest any of the 16 matches ended, as Gaxiola advanced to the winner's bracket Round of 16 on Thursday morning.
Sixth-seeded Gaxiola's putting hardly needed work after he birdied six of the 12 holes on the afternoon en route to a 7 and 6 win over No. 27-seed Matt Jeffe of South Wales. Yet donning his loose green polo and white cap, Gaxiola drilled the best part of his arsenal to make it even better with two days left in the tournament.
"I think the strongest part of my game is my putting right now. I'm putting pretty good. My game around the green is also pretty good," Gaxiola said. "I'm really happy because the first two days I didn't play my best...stay calm and keep doing what I'm doing."
Lowest seed in match play beats top seed
Even though the 32 match-play seeds are based solely on the 36 holes played Tuesday and Wednesday morning, Cole Hague still drew motivation from his place as the lowest seed of the bunch.
Pitted against top seed Federico Gutierrez of Mexico, Hague, the 17-year-old from Ontario, came away with a 3 and 2 win. He, too, like Gaxiola, felt automatic with his putter, despite being anything but that during his first two rounds of the tournament.
In his second 18 holes on Wednesday morning, Hague putted 41 times. In order to advance to the Round of 32, the Canadian won a playoff after Wednesday morning's 18. Upon returning to the course's main tent near the 18th green after the playoff, Hague was told he had five minutes until he teed off in the Round of 16. No time to fix the putting game that threatened to deal him an early exit. Luckily, he didn't need it.
"It honestly gave me motivation," Hague said of his No. 32 seed. "There was not much pressure on me so it didn't really affect me that much. ... I was making every put inside 10 feet."
Spencer Jenkins birdies seven of 14 holes in blowout win
Jenkins, the No. 17 seed who will graduate high school in 2018, strutted off the course before any of the other 31 remaining golfers after draining birdies on half of his 14 holes en route to a seamless win over Toronto's Zack Mason, the No. 16 seed.
Jenkins wasn't pleased with his 77 in Wednesday morning's 18 after a 75 on Tuesday, so he took to the driving range in between rounds to bury it in the rearview. It worked, and the teenager from Lakeland, Tennessee will move on to the Round of 16 with one of the most formidable performances of the afternoon in his pocket.
"I came out and made two bogeys early but counteracted that with a birdie," Jenkins said, "and then just got on a birdie train and I guess that's about it. I started figuring greens out much better and then it just kind of all came together."
No. 2 seed Eric Shea takes care of business
This is Shea's third year playing in the Junior Masters, and the St. John's College golfer is hoping the third time's a charm.
In Year 1, Shea lost in the consolation bracket semifinals on the 16th hole. Last year, he didn't even crack the match-play Round of 32, falling in his first match in the "Gold flight," for golfers who placed 33rd-48th overall after the tournament's first two rounds.
On Wednesday, the Ontario native and second seed in the field took care of Australia's Jacob Schouw after a rough start to the round saw both golfers find hazards.
"It was a little scrappy on the front. ... it wasn't pretty but got the W in the end so it was all good," Shea said. "Strongest part of the game was probably off the tee because I hit the ball pretty far and I was pretty straight today."