A number of key elements go into the making of a U.S. Amateur champion.
First and foremost, it has to be someone who possesses a great deal of talent. Someone who gets a break or two during the long week of competition and takes full advantage. Someone who can remain patient and relaxed in stressful situations and who trusts in his ability.
Finally, it has to be someone with a lot of heart and fortitude.
In capping off a most spectacular of golf summers, Ryan Moore fit the bill perfectly.
The 21-year-old from Puyallup, Wash., won the last four holes Aug. 22 – three with birdies – to overcome a two-hole deficit and defeat Luke List, 19, of Ringgold, Ga., 2-up in the 36-hole final of the 104th U.S. Amateur Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club.
Moore’s victory finished a sterling three-month run that might be the best in amateur golf since the days of Bobby Jones.
Moore won the NCAA individual title by six shots, then played in four national amateur tournaments this summer and won them all. With his victory at Winged Foot’s West Course, he becomes the first male player to win the U.S. Amateur Public Links – he did that last month at Rush Creek Golf Club just outside Minneapolis – and U.S. Amateur in the same year, and only the fifth person in history to win two U.S. Golf Association championships in the same year.
“It’s been an incredible summer, an incredible year,” said Moore, a senior at UNLV, where he was a first-team All-American. “And now this. There is so much history to this championship, and to have my name on that trophy with all those great players, well, it’s just awesome.”
Said List, a freshman at Vanderbilt last season, “Ryan’s summer has been absolutely amazing. I think Tiger (Woods) winning three straight (U.S.) Amateurs is a great feat, and I’d have to say what Ryan has done this summer ranks right up there with it. I think Ryan’s biggest asset is the way he is able to stay relaxed and trust every part of his game.”
As finalists, Moore and List gained invitations to the 2005 Masters as well as exemptions into next year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Moore also earned an exemption into the British Open.
Since the first week of June, when Moore routed the field at the NCAA Championship, he has had no equals. After withdrawing from his U.S. Open sectional qualifier in order to have a cyst removed from his tailbone, Moore came back in mid-July and won the Sahalee Players Championship. He followed with his second Public Links title – the first came in 2002 – then captured the Western Amateur before taking his show to Winged Foot.
“The thing about Ryan is that he is able to stay within himself and in the present, one shot at a time,” said Moore’s father, Mike, a 1-handicapper and his son’s swing coach. “He’s not afraid to win, and he’s not afraid to lose. He just enjoys the game. He has had an incredible summer. I’d have to say it would rank up there as one of the greatest summers in recent history.”
Moore finished it off in style at the Amateur, an event in which he reached the quarterfinals in 2002, but lost in the first round of match play last year.
He gave signs of things to come when he captured qualifying medalist honors, shooting 1-under-par 139 over the East and West courses. It was the only under-par total among the 312 players in the starting field. Six matches and five days later, Moore became the first player since Woods in 1996 to win the 36-hole stroke play and championship in the same year.
Prior to the final, only one of his five matches went to the 18th hole, a third-round match in which Moore again showed the heart and guts of a champion.
Three holes down with five to play against Aron Price, an Australian who won the Rice Planters and Players Amateur titles earlier this summer, Moore won four of the holes for a 1-up victory.
In the final, Moore was 4 down after 19 holes, 3 down through 25 holes and 2 down through 32. But he never panicked – or at least never showed it – setting up a stretch run that compared to Woods’ comebacks in his three consecutive U.S. Amateur victories (1994-96).
“When it looked like things were going the wrong way, he hung in there and made some great shots and putts, and brought it back like a true champion,” said USGA president Fred Ridley, who won the 1975 Amateur and followed Sunday’s match the entire way.
“Going into the afternoon I knew I had to turn it up a notch and make some birdies, which is hard to do on this golf course. Fortunately I was able to,” said Moore, who made five of his six birdies on the day over the last 14 holes.
He sank a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 15, and when List bogeyed the 16th, three-putting from 35 feet, the match was all square.
Moore took his first lead of the match at No. 17 when he sank another 10-footer for birdie. For List, it marked the first time since the second hole of his second match – a stretch of 100 holes – that he had trailed. Moore sealed the victory when he knocked his approach at 18 to 4 feet after List put his shot in the left bunker. When List’s bunker shot flew over the other side of the green into the thick rough, he conceded the hole and sent Moore into the history books.
“Ryan played great down the stretch and put the pressure on me,” said List. “The bottom line is he hit the clutch shots down the stretch. He made the putts he needed to win. In no way do I feel I gave it to him – he earned it.”