2001: Competition - Dickerson quietly wrests Western Am

By Dave Seanor

Benton Harbor, Mich.

Benjamin “Bubba” Dickerson is a man of few words, a guy who gets straight to the point.

Ask him, for instance, what his major field of study is at the University of Florida, and he’ll give a one-word answer: “Golf.”

At the 99th Western Amateur Championship, Dickerson didn’t need to say much. His Aug. 5 victory spoke volumes.

Dickerson fashioned rounds of 68-66-68-68–270 over the opening three days of stroke play at Point O’ Woods Golf and Country Club, earning co-medalist honors and tying the Western Am record set by Scott Verplank in 1984. He never saw the 18th hole on the first day of match play, dispatching Mike Austin, 3 and 1, in the morning and Boyd Summerhays, 2 and 1, in the afternoon.

During the semifinals and championship match, Dickerson played more like a “Bulldog” than a “Bubba.” Once he latched onto the lead, he couldn’t be shaken loose.

Dickerson was 1 down after seven holes in his semifinal match against Georgia Tech’s Matt Weibring, then won five of the next six holes – including a door-slamming eagle at the par-5 13th – en route to a 4-and-3 victory. Next up was Trip Kuehne, whose lengthy golf résumé includes a runner-up finish to Tiger Woods in the 1994 U.S. Amateur. Dickerson dusted Kuehne, 6 and 4.

The victory was a long time coming for Dickerson, 20, who said he hasn’t won a tournament since 1997, when he was No. 1 nationally in the Golfweek Junior Rankings thanks to triumphs at the Future Masters, PGA Junior and Optimist International.

“I think I’ve been second in about 15 tournaments since then,” Dickerson said. “It feels good to have finally closed one out.”

He gained 41 places in the Golfweek/ Titleist Amateur Rankings, advancing to 10th from 51st. Kuehne debuts at tied for 46th.

Kuehne, 29, a stock analyst for a Dallas-based hedge fund, has been focusing more on ratios of return than his shoulder turn in recent years, but last May he decided to get serious about golf again and resurfaced at the Western as a force to be reckoned with. His third-round 65 caught folks’ attention, and after posting a 275 total he beat the hottest player of the summer – North and South Amateur and Players Amateur winner Michael Sims – 1 up in the first round; eliminated co-medalist Matt Abbott in 20 holes in the quarterfinals; and confidently brushed aside New York State Amateur champ Kevin Haefner, 6 and 5, in their semifinal.

Kuehne plays with flair; Dickerson is a grinder who hails from rural Hilliard, Fla., has close-cropped red hair, a solid build, little interest in dressing stylishly, and an uncomplicated golf swing.

“I calculate the yardage and hit it before I have time to think,” he said. “It’s not a textbook golf swing. I just try to use what works, hit fairways and hit greens. Just try to make it as easy as possible.”

If Dickerson was intimidated, impressed, or even aware of Kuehne’s past successes, he didn’t show it. He won the first two holes and never let Kuehne in the match.

Kuehne failed to capitalize on a possible swing of momentum when Dickerson drove into the left rough at No. 8, a tricky, 324-yard par 4. Dickerson hit the green with his second and did well to two-putt from 35 feet above the hole. Kuehne missed a 6-foot birdie putt.

“He missed a lot of putts early on,” said Dickerson, who will never be accused of overanalyzing a golf tournament.

Kuehne was further tripped up at No. 9, an intimidating 192-yard par 3 over water, when his tee shot found the front bunker, and he failed to get up-and-down. Dickerson went 4 up after sticking his tee shot to 3 feet at the 210-yard 11th.

Both players overshot the 12th with their approaches, but Kuehne couldn’t convert the up-and-down, falling five holes behind with six to play. Dickerson sealed the deal with a birdie at No. 14.

Even though he has shed 25 pounds since May (down to his Oklahoma State playing weight of 175), fatigue and a sore right foot (tendinitis and a big blister) appeared to take their toll on Kuehne. Leading to the final, he had played 177 holes in 51⁄2 days, including a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifier in Texas (he made it) and a practice round here.

“I’m not disappointed with the way I played,” Kuehne said. “Tee to green I was fine, but I’m disappointed with the way I putted. I’m right in the match, even after the first five holes, if I putt a lick. But I didn’t putt at all.

“That’s the way match play goes. Bubba kept the pressure on, he had control of the tee box, and he won.”

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