The US Amateur Championship
The US Amateur Championship concluded this past Sunday with Nick Dunlap from the University of Alabama besting Neal Shipley from Ohio St. The venue was at Cherry Hills Country Club, which has historically hosted some important championships including the US Open. In my opinion, the US Am is one of the most difficult championships to win. The win requires consistent good play, luck, patience, persistence and great course management to win this event. You might say that this is true for every golf tournament but in the case of the US Amateur, you have to do it for an entire week from qualifying medal play to the grind of match play against the best amateurs in the country. When we think about the greatness of Tiger Woods, his amateur career is as impressive as his performance as a professional. Tiger won this event three years in a row. In every one of these events, he came from behind to win and when you think about three years in a row with the degree of difficulty to keep a game together for an entire week, it is an incredible achievement. Preceding these US Amateur victories, Tiger won the Junior Amateur three years in a row, which is even more incredible as it requires the same level of achievement at a much younger age.
Cherry Hills was a great venue for the event. In 1960, Arnold Palmer drove the first green, which was 375 yards, with a persimmon driver. The hole is marked with a plaque of that event and Bryson Dechambeau, the 2015 US Amateur Champion, put on a little clinic for kids by driving the first hole with a persimmon driver. It was great seeing Dechambeau hosting a bunch of kids as they chased his gigantic drives to the green with a persimmon driver and signing balls for them.
There were a number of great matches throughout the tournament but a standout was the match between Paul Chang and John Marshall Butler in the quarter finals. Wlith the match going back and forth, Chang made a spectacular eagle on the 16th hole to go one up in the match. On the 17th hole, Butler hit a wonderful iron shot to birdie the hole. The Chang/Marshall match was the last match left on the course and had started late as Marshall’s prior match had gone extra holes. There wasn’t much light left to play and both players wanted to complete the match to avoid having to come back and complete the match on the following day. You really couldn’t follow the ball in the air. Butler smashed his tee shot on the 18th hole way down the fairway and incredulously, he actually drove the ball 330 yards into the pond on the left side. Butler couldn’t believe it but he wasn’t about to give up. Chang drove his ball into the center of the fairway and knocked an iron into the center of the green about 20 ft. away. Butler would be hitting his 3rd shot after taking a drop from the penalty area. The clubhouse activated some portable lights onto the green so the players could at least figure out the contours of the green on that final hole. The pressure was clearly on Butler and he answered with a remarkable shot that landed 3 ft. from the hole. In match play, you can never underestimate what your opponent is capable of doing. Chang went from almost a certain 2 Up victory to having to make a long birdie putt to win the match. Of course, Chang missed the putt badly and actually didn’t lose his turn as he now had to hole a 4 ft. putt for par and hope that Butler would miss his 3 footer. Chang made the putt but so did Butler so the match would have to go extra holes and a probable sleepless night for both guys as they would have to settle the match in the morning. Once again, the adage that “never underestimate what your opponent can do in match play” also rang true once again. Butler ended up dispatching Chang on the first extra hole the following morning. Butler’s run would end as he lost his semi-final match to Neal Shipley.
While Butler’s match with Chang was pretty exciting, the final between Nick Dunlap and Neal Shipley was a great demonstration of great golf. Both guys were on fire with irons and putters ablazing posting birdies in the first 18 and were tied at the turn. Dunlap starting holing putts from everywhere after lunch and took a 4 up lead. Dunlap then seemed to lose control of the driver on the back nine but Shipley simply couldn’t take advantage of the misses as Dunlap recovered most of the time. On the 13th, Shipley finally took the tee back as Dunlap was stymied in the spinachy rough surrounding the hole and conceded the hole taking the match to 3 Up. Shipley just couldn’t put any more pressure on Dunlap and holes were halved to give Dunlap a resounding 4 and 3 victory. Dunlap would have beaten virtually anyone on this day as he had a total of 12 birdies and Shipley had quite a few of his own. Dunlap recorded a major milestone with this victory as he is the second player to win the US Amateur and the US Junior Amateur. The other player is a guy named Tiger Woods.
BMW Open–Olympia Fields, Chicago
The BMW Open determines the final professional tournament on the PGA Tour that determines who will qualify for the Tour Championship at East Lake this coming week. There is no cut here and only the top 30 finishers will qualify. In an event that appeared to be a two horse race between Scottie Scheffler and Matt Fitzpatrick, Victor Hovland then raced through the field in the Final Round and completed the best round of his professional career with a 61 that blitzed the field to a two shot victory. Hovland has been working hard on his short game and putting and he pulled it all together for this final round. The win will guarantee him the second position in the upcoming Tour Championship event.
I still believe that the Tour Championship lineup is a difficult mathematical format to understand where a birdie or a bogey in this tournament can determine placement in the upcoming event. Scottie Scheffler will have a 2 stroke lead over Hovland and ten shots over Jordan Speith, who struggled to get into the field and was actually the beneficiary of Denny McCarthy’s misfortunes in the final round. It would be refreshing if the PGA Tour could disclose some transparency as to how all these positions are figured out without a degree in ChatGPT.