2002: U.S. Amateur - On top of the world

Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Now Ricky Barnes can believe in himself. If he had any doubts about his talent as a golfer before, they can be dismissed. And, should any such doubts creep in at a later date, all he will have to do is look at the Havemeyer Trophy.

He’ll find his name there with those of Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods – all of whom have one thing in common. They, too, are U.S. Amateur champions.

Barnes, 21, earned that distinction Aug. 25 when he defeated Hunter Mahan, 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final at Oakland Hills Country Club.

“I’m on top of the world right now,” said Barnes, a three-time All-American at the University of Arizona. “The way I feel right now is unbelievable. My emotions are so high right now, I can’t even explain them.”

Moments after Barnes chipped from the back rough to a foot on the par-3 17th hole – the 35th of the match – and was conceded the par putt to win the U.S. Amateur Championship, he gave his older brother and caddie Andy a big hug and asked, “Can you believe it?”

“Yes, because I believe in you,” Andy answered, looking his brother in the eye. “We came here to win, and you did it.”

Barnes, of Stockton, Calif., earned invitations to play in next year’s Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. In addition, his victory probably assured him one of the three spots on this year’s U.S. squad for the World Amateur Team Championship to be played in mid-October in Malaysia.

“I’m not sure when all of this is going to sink in,” said Barnes, who qualified for the U.S. Open in 2000 and 2002. “All I know is I’m loving every bit of it. This is the biggest tournament you can win as an amateur. The thing about it is, no matter what happens, no matter what people might say, no one can take this away from me.”

While it was Ricky hitting the shots, making the putts and frustrating his opponents by consistently getting up-and-down from some difficult positions, brother Andy deserves a major chunk of the credit.

Andy, who was runner-up at the 1994 U.S. Junior, played four years of college golf at Arizona, ending in 1999. He currently plays the Canadian Tour.

“When they put Ricky’s name on that trophy, they ouught to put Andy’s on there as well,” said Arizona coach Rick LaRose, who was on hand watching Ricky and three other Wildcats players who qualified for the championship. “Andy was huge in this win. He helped so much. He was a great calming influence. He is a good thinker and manages a course well. He was able to put his knowledge behind Ricky’s talent.”

You won’t get much argument from Ricky.

“I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve and get ahead of myself, lose my concentration,” said Barnes, a free spirit who chatted with spectators throughout his matches, including the final. “Every time that happened, Andy was there to calm me down and set me straight. He kept me in line and focused all week. He definitely had a lot to do with me winning.”

Throughout the week, players agreed that par would win holes and matches on Oakland Hill’s famed South course, which featured fast greens and nearly 5-inch rough.

That was certainly the case for the final match.

Over the 35 holes, Barnes made seven birdies, while Mahan, a junior first-team All-American at Oklahoma State, made six and an eagle. But Barnes made only two bogeys, while Mahan had five, along with an “X” when he put two balls in the water on approach shots to the par-4 16th hole in the morning session.

“I went 20 holes today without a bogey, and if you would have told me at the start of the day I would do that, I would have said you were crazy,” Barnes said. “But I made some incredible up-and-downs. I’ll bet a few of them surprised Hunter – heck, some of them surprised me. I would have to say my short game won this tournament for me this week.”

Mahan, 20, who was trying to become only the second player (after Tiger Woods) ever to win the U.S. Junior (1999) and U.S. Amateur, won Nos. 10 and 12 with birdies to go 1 up in the morning, but Barnes came back and won the final three holes – two with birdies – to take a 2-up advantage at the 18-hole break.

In the afternoon, Barnes birdied the second hole to go 3 up, but bogeyed the third. He won Nos. 5 and 8 with pars to build his lead to 4 up as Mahan’s putter turned sour.

A Barnes bogey at No. 10 left him 3 up, and when Mahan rolled in a 45-foot eagle putt on the par-5 12th, the lead was down to 2 up. But Barnes answered on the next hole. After Mahan missed his 18-foot birdie try at the par-3 13th, Barnes drained a 15-footer.

“That was huge,” said Barnes. “He had just won holes 10 and 12 and made an incredible (eagle) putt, and the next hole I come back and birdie. I think that helped stop his momentum.”

Still, Mahan didn’t roll over. He birdied No. 15 to cut Barnes’ lead to 2 up, but both parred the next two holes to end the match.

“It was a long, tough day,” said Mahan, of McKinney, Texas. “But Ricky made it tough because he hit so many great shots and never got himself in trouble. He played like he wanted to win. I think he would have beaten anybody today the way he was playing. And I struggled in stretches, especially with my putting.”

Mahan made the final by shooting 1-over 141 in stroke-play qualifying, then defeating Brent Wanner, 5 and 4; John Merrick, 2 and 1; Conner Robbins, 1 up; Henry Liaw, 3 and 2; and Dustin Bray in the semifinals, 1 up.

Barnes, who never trailed by more than a hole in any of his matches, tied for second in qualifying at 3-under 137, two shots behind medalist Bill Haas, the only player to post two stroke-play rounds in the 60s (67-68).

In match play, Barnes defeated Brett Stegmaier, 2 and 11 up; Daniel Summerhays, 6 and 5; Brett Foulds, 2 and 1; Spencer Levin, 4 and 3; and Haas in the semis, 1 up.

“All I can say right now is I’m just so proud of him,” Andy Barnes said of his brother. “I admire him for what he did this entire week. I was pretty much just here for support.”

Next April, Andy will give his brother that same support at Augusta National Golf Club, where he will caddie for Ricky in the Masters. If the Barnes brothers can somehow work the same magic they did at Oakland Hills, it could be quite a show.

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