ERIN, Wis. – Cory Whitsett employed his coach at Alabama, Jay Seawell, this week at the U.S. Amateur, and they attaboy’d and you-da-man’d their way through 19 holes Thursday, through moments both joyous and deflating, until Whitsett’s opponent, the third-ranked amateur in the world, rapped in a 5-footer for par and the win.
“I learned about him,” Seawell said of Whitsett, 19, “and he proved he’s as good as anybody in the country – no, he’s as good as anybody in the world.”
That’s not just coach-speak, either. Through 13 holes Thursday afternoon, Whitsett was 3 up on Tom Lewis – the first-round co-leader at this year’s Open Championship and the best international player in this field – and he let it slip away. A choked-up 3-wood on 15 that was hit thin. A blocked 2-iron on 15 that led to a few hacks out of the fescue. And then the devastating blow – a tee shot into the hazard on the first extra hole, and a lip-out for par.
“But the important thing,” Seawell said, “is that he got his confidence back.”
Indeed, that was in short supply last month at The Players Amateur. After watching Whitsett, the 2007 U.S. Junior champ, miss the cut in South Carolina, Seawell called and said: “If you get into the Am, I’m your guy, if you want.”
Whitsett got into the Am, all right, but work needed to be done. A stress fracture in his back only recently had healed, and his sub-par play this summer (no top 10s) could be attributed to sloppy mechanics: A grip that was too weak, a clubface that was too open. “It’s not a good feeling,” he said, “when you think you’re going to snap-hook everything.”
Having refined his game at home in Houston, Whitsett arrived at Erin Hills “just trying to hit numbers.” Rounds of 69-68 in stroke-play qualifying earned Whitsett the No. 12 seed, and in match play his partnership with Seawell shone brightly. Not surprisingly, the ’Bama coach was equal parts coach, caddie and counselor.
You’ve got a good read here, so just trust yourself.
Beautiful line here . . . execute.
You gotta putt it how you feel. Know what I mean?
Of course Whitsett did, all day, but he couldn’t muster a birdie when it mattered most, on the final hole of regulation when he had an iron for his second shot into the par-5 18th.
“You executed all those shots perfectly,” Seawell assured his man as they headed back to the first tee for the playoff. But those good vibes didn’t last long, after Whitsett blocked his tee ball into the left hazard. Crowd participation was then encouraged: Farther up! The other stake! Whatever. He was in trouble.
But so, too, was Lewis, who went bunker-bunker-chunk and needed a 5-footer to save par and the win. It tumbled into the center of the cup, and he moved on to Friday’s Round of 16.
“I can take a lot more good than bad (from this week),” Whitsett said afterward, “and the things I’ve been working on held up under pressure. That’s not much consolation, though. I had him on the ropes. A loss is still a loss.”
Yet his coach, his caddie and his counselor wasn’t quite so sure. “It was nice to see him from this side,” Seawell said, “because I learned about the ability that he has. You can just see it. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he uses this as a springboard for amazing things.”
Just something else the player and coach can enjoy together.