Notes from the 110th US Amateur Championship
Day of Celebration
Peter Uihlein and Chambers Bay shine at the U.S. Amateur
by Paul Ramsdell
SUNDAY, 6 p.m. – With a backdrop even the most optimistic of organizers couldn’t have foreseen, Peter Uihlein celebrated his 21 birthday Sunday by winning the U.S. Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay.
The junior at Oklahoma State won it on the 16th hole, his 34th of the day, beating David Chung, a junior at Stanford, 4&2 for the title in the 36-hole final of the 110th version of the championship. As the two came together to shake hands and Chung conceded defeat, the Puget Sound loomed beautifully in the background and the dunes above the hole were filled with most of the 5,250 spectators who watched the final round.
The final spectator count was 33,700 for the week, when 30,000 would have been considered a tremendous success.
They watched the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world (Uihlein) and No. 4 (Chung), according to the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
“The cream rose to the top here because
Chambers Bay tests all those things,” said Tom O’Toole, the chairman of the Championship Committee for the USGA. “It tests the shot-making capabilities, rewards well-executed shots, and penalizes poorly executed shots.”
In the final analysis, the championship was decided on the far northwestern corner of the 7,461-yard, par-71 course as Chung was making one of his patented back-nine comebacks.
“When we were 4-up with that back nine left, I knew David was going to do something, and he did,” Uihlein said of Chung, who came back from a three-hole deficit Saturday in his semifinal match against defending champion Byeong-Hun An.
Chung cut the four-hole deficit down to two when Uihlein made a bogey out of a fairway bunker on the 10th hole and Chung holed a nice 25-footer for birdie on the 11th hole.
“I said, ‘Hey, if I make a couple of putts here I could get something started,’” Chung said.
When Chung put his drive on the 302-yard, par-4 12th 12 feet past the hole, it looked like the momentum, and the fan support, was clearly in his corner. His eagle putt slipped by, and when the players said “good-good” on their matching 4-footers for birdie, the match moved on with Uihlein 2-up.
“I felt like when he messed up on 12, that was big because I felt like 13 and 14 kind of played more into my hands,” Uihlein said.
“I couldn’t drop the putts when I needed to today,” Chung added.
Uihlein put the dagger in on the 522-yard, par-4 14th hole. Despite pulling his drive into the waste area left of the hole, he was able to give himself a 20-foot birdie putt. He negotiated the ridge between him and the ball perfectly and his birdie put him 3-up.
“I had an identical putt on 14 that I had in the morning,” Uihlein said. “I was able to hit a pretty good stroke on it and it went in.”
The tee on the 16th hole was moved up, making it a drivable 289-yard, par-4. Uihlein found the green, but Chung left his drive high and left in the rough in an impossible position. After a couple of futile attempts, Chung conceded the hole and Uihlein had his title and secured expected spots in the Masters, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship next year.
Chung, as a consolation, is expected to get the traditional invitation to the Masters as well as a spot in the U.S. Open.
“I was a little flat out there, and I couldn’t really spark any momentum, so I think that was the difference,” Chung said. “But kudos to Peter, he played fantastic today.”
Chung provided one of the highlights on the day when it looked like he was making a mockery of the 607-yard, par-5 eighth hole in the afternoon round. His drive stayed on the hillside and ended up in deep rough that didn’t look too bad to Chung. However, he wasn’t able to get his 5-iron through the thick stuff and his shot went about five yards. His third shot wasn’t a whole lot better, going about 50 yards but staying on the hillside. He was finally able to make good contact with his fourth shot and got it down the fairway to 118 yards out. From there, he prompted holed out with a pitching wedge for an unconventional par.
“I had a feeling on the fifth shot,” Chung said. “I said, ‘Hey, give it all you’ve got here. You can make this.’”
Uihlein, though, still won the hole, nailing the 8-foot birdie that had a whole lot more pressure on it than he expected.
Uihlein, who had an emotional embrace with his parents, Wally and Tina, after the victory, returned to Oklahoma State after the championship to celebrate his birthday and his victory with his buddies.
And Uihlein realized one reason he was celebrating was because of the work of someone who also celebrated a birthday Sunday, Chambers Bay superintendent David Wienecke.
“Chambers I felt set up great for my game,” Uihlein said.
“You’ve got to use the slopes and be creative. You’ve got to hit every shot with a certain spin and height. You’ve really got to control your ball,” said Uihlein.
Jay Blasi, one of the course architects working for Robert Trent Jones Jr., in designing Chambers Bay, was at the match Sunday and said Uihlein was the best player at figuring out all the creative ways to approach Chambers Bay.
“It’s just one of those courses that is just so difficult that you really need every shot,” Uihlein said. “You need every shot around the green and off the tee.”
And Uihlein had them all on his 21st birthday and the week leading up to it.
The blood of competition – when matches are on the line
by Heather Reitmeier
PNGA/WSGA Manager of Communications
“Competition is mental, it’s all mental”. That’s the one thing my coach always told me growing up playing sports. I never forgot those words.
This week, walking with the players during the matches of the U.S. Amateur, it was ironic to me how many times I spoke the words “mental” and “competition.” As Eugene Wong came back from 3-down to win his match
Wednesday, I’m sure I said “mental” over 10 times.
Seeing a player such as T.J. Bordeaux miss a putt and pull hit hat off his head in frustration really hit me. I wanted to go up to him, pat him on the back and say, “Competition is mental, it’s all mental.”
During Friday’s matches I caught myself giving the “mental” talk to Jed Dirksen in my head as he was grinding over a putt on the 20th hole of his match with Patrick Cantlay. Like that is doing him any good, right?
After Cantlay won the hole, and the match, to advance to semifinal play on Saturday, I thought about a time in my own earlier sports life when I lost a game because I “lost my head.” I empathized with Dirksen. I knew what he was feeling at that moment. He had been up in the match earlier on, and now it’s gone, and he’s going home. Not a fun feeling for an athlete, that’s for sure.
So, now, after five full days of golf at the highest level of play in the Amateur world, I am enjoying the game more than I thought I would, and have learned more about it each day – the competition, how mental this game really is, which was so evident after seeing the players faces and reactions when matches were on the line.
I don’t play golf at the same level these great athletes do, but there is now a part of me that wants to, as the competitiveness has me hooked.
You can sure bet I’ll be watching the final match tomorrow, as I bleed competition – and there’s been a lot of that this week, during the nation’s oldest golf championship.
A test of nerves, the test of time, a test among the best
by Paul Ramsdell
FRIDAY, 6 p.m. – It’s another day at the U.S. Amateur, and it’s another challenge Chambers Bay passes during this test run for the U.S. Open in five years.
On Monday and Tuesday, the new course on the shores of Puget Sound was set up long, hard and fast to test 312 amateurs, and the average score of 79.2 proved it passed the test. Wednesday, the course was set up 700 yards shorter after a night of watering of the greens, and it was still a challenging test, both mentally and physically. On
Thursday, the USGA got the wind it was hoping to see.
And today was a day to see how the course reacted to crowds as a large number of spectators came out in the morning to follow the four quarterfinal matches. People were trampling atop dunes, slipping and sliding their way up and down the steep grades.
“I knew I’d have to replant (the fescue in the rough) and that just goes with the territory,” said Dave Wienecke, the course superintendent. “Chambers Bay was designed to handle a crowd and that’s where the crowds are supposed to go, and we just have to accept the trampling and the damage and just re-do it (when it’s over).”
The large crowds got to see some exciting golf, as all four matches made it to the 18th hole, with one going to the 20th hole – Patrick Cantlay, an 18-year-old from Los Alamitos, Calif., took advantage of some miscues by Jed Dirksen down the stretch to win on the second extra hole.
David Chung, a 20-year-old junior at Stanford, kept his hot summer alive with a 1-up victory over Scott Langley, the reigning NCAA Division I champ.
In the two battles between teammates, defending champion Byeong-Hun An, an incoming freshman at California, held off fellow Golden Bear Max Homa 1-up. And the shootout between the two Oklahoma State Cowboys went to Peter Uihlein 1-up when Morgan Hoffmann couldn’t get up-and-down for birdie on No. 18 despite being pin-high in two on the long par-5.
That sets up Chung vs. An (8:30 a.m.) in one semifinal Saturday and Cantlay and Uihlein (8:45 a.m.) in the other, with the winners of these two matches meeting Sunday in a 36-hole final. The two winners Saturday are fully expected to get invitations to The Masters next April.
Even though any golfer with Northwest ties was eliminated long ago, it didn’t prevent the Northwest golf fans from coming out early Friday morning to watch the quarterfinals, albeit armed more with Starbucks than beer.
The crowds had to leave the Chambers Bay officials pleased.
“Oh, my gosh, yeah, extremely,” said Brian Simpson, the sales director for the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay.
Simpson hadn’t gotten the final tally for attendance Friday as of yet, but because the gallery was following just four groups around the layout it seemed a lot more than the 4,600 spectators Thursday, the 4,500 Wednesday, the 3,800 Tuesday and the 3,100 Monday.
“It’s more than I was expecting,” Wienecke said about the crowd. “I went to Southern Hills (for the U.S. Amateur last year) and it was quiet compared to this. It’s neat to see the community interest, and I’m seeing people who I bet are not golf addicts, just average Joe and Jane, and that’s nice to see.”
What wasn’t always nice to see were some people not handling the dunes all that well.
“They’re having people slipping and hurting ankles and bones and stuff. It’s slippery and it’s on uneven ground,” Wienecke said. “I love the freedom people have to find a place to look, but it’s a concern. They’re all kinds of issues there, which we’ll have to address for the Open for sure.”
Any issues about the golf course have been answered to everyone’s satisfaction, that’s for sure.
“I’m really pleased,” Wienecke said about how his course has handled the championship. “We’re doing a good job. The course is doing its good job. The players seem to enjoy it. The USGA is very happy. And I’m real proud of my staff because they’re doing a great job.”
This weekend will see the four players left in the field battle for the trophy in the nation’s oldest golf championship. Stay tuned.