Dillard Pruitt was just here to have fun. Ditto for Tripp Davis.
Hunter Mahan, on the other hand, came to the 49th Sunnehanna Amateur intent on winning. Midway through the final round, his goal was clearly in sight.
Yet it was the easy-going Pruitt who hoisted the crystal trophy June 9, matching Davis with a 4-under-par 276 for 72 holes, then besting him in a four-hole playoff.
“I came here with absolutely no expectations,” said Pruitt, the 40-year-old former PGA Tour player and reinstated amateur who now works as a Tour rules official. “This was my U.S. Open.”
It was the second Sunnehanna victory for Pruitt. He also won in 1983, at age 21. “I’m so much happier this time – at 40 years old, winning a national amateur tournament like this,” he said. “I just didn’t think it would happen.”
Neither did Davis nor Mahan. The former led after each of the first three rounds and by one shot through 71 holes; the latter posted a scorching third-round 64 and pounded a 370-yard opening drive Sunday to ignite a front-side, front-running 33.
But as Pruitt and Davis, a 34-year-old golf course architect who played on the University of Oklahoma’s 1989 national championship team, prepared for the playoff, Mahan was fighting back tears.
The 20-year-old Oklahoma State sophomore led by two shots at the turn Sunday and appeared to be headed for a runaway victory. But Mahan double-bogeyed the par-3 10th and melted down with three bogeys and another double en route to 41-74.
“I felt for Hunter,” said Pruitt. “He’s a better player than I am. But I could see the wheels spinning after he messed up the 10th. When that tornado starts going off in your head. . . I’ve been there.”
Mahan, however, wasn’t the only contender to misfire. The final threesome of Pruitt, Davis and Mahan played the last five holes in a cumulative 9 over par. Playing two groups ahead on Sunday, and unaware of the leaders’ misfortunes, D.J. Trahan and Trip Kuehne shot 67 and 68, respectively. They finished tied for third at 277, one stroke shy of the playoff. Trahan shot 33 on the back nine, despite missing short par putts at the 15th and 16th.
Softened by heavy rain that washed out practice rounds, the Sunnehanna course was there for the taking.
Davis and Danny Green, 45, whose unorthodox swing has produced U.S. Mid-Amateur and Western Amateur titles, opened with 66s. Green fell back with a crooked-driving 74 in the morning half of Saturday’s traditional 36 holes, while Davis posted 68 to maintain a one-shot lead over Garth Mulroy and Gregg Jones. Pruitt quietly shot 69-70 and was tied for sixth after 36.
Mahan vaulted into contention with a 64 Saturday afternoon, following two 70s. He made six 3s in the first seven holes, including birdies on the first four. Davis’ play was steady, if not so spectacular.
“I don’t get to play a great deal,” said Davis, noting he had to answer 21 cell phone messages the day he arrived in Johnstown. “How well I play just depends on whether I get a feel for the greens.”
The final day, Davis bogeyed three of the last four en route to 73. Davis’ fatigue was evident, Mahan was fading and Pruitt’s Tour-tested patience was about to pay off. But not without a hiccup and some help.
Tied with Davis at 6 under, Pruitt drove left into trees at the par-4 17th, hit a branch with his second, then drilled a low, hot liner – his only shot – into the back bunker and made double-bogey 6. Davis missed the 17th green and bogeyed, then Mahan parred to pull within one of Davis’ lead. At the 18th, Mahan drove into an unplayable lie under trees and finished with double-bogey 6. Davis set up the playoff in startling fashion. He nearly missed his second shot, hitting a 10-yard worm-burner from rough just off the fairway, and made bogey to Pruitt’s par.
“I’m over that shot, knowing that if I hit it on the green, I’m going to win,” said Davis. “I just came into it too flat. I was flabbergasted when it only went 10 yards.”
The four-hole, cumulative-total playoff – new to the Sunnehanna this year – was anticlimactic. Four routine pars did the trick for Pruitt. Davis bogeyed the first two holes, three-putting No. 1 and hitting a tree with his second shot at No. 2. He parred the third playoff hole, No. 17, then picked up at the 18th after Pruitt holed out.