BROOKLINE, Mass. – Four matches, eight players.
But the storylines? There were too many to count on a day of vintage late-summer weather that provided a splendid backdrop to the quarterfinals of the 113th U.S. Amateur.
There are many places to begin, but when at The Country Club, the starting point is never at the first tee but at the 17th green. It is where American golf may have taken root, for it was on that green in the most significant U.S. Open of them all where Francis Ouimet made birdies in the fourth round to tie and the playoff to win over a pair of heavyweights from England, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
The victory was stunning, the fallout immediate, and the reason we are here this week at The Country Club is to pay tribute to Ouimet, his triumph, and his contributions to golf on the 100th anniversary of that 1913 U.S. Open. But between that championship and this championship there was another historic moment at TCC’s 17th green, the unforgettable putt that sealed the American comeback at the 1999 Ryder Cup.
Justin Leonard delivered that putt and when he’s not out on the PGA Tour, he can be found at Royal Oaks in the Dallas area.
“He always gives me the ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ sign,” Callie Scheffler said.
It’s to poke a little fun, of course, because Scheffler goes to Texas A&M. But Leonard is pleased that Callie’s little brother, Scottie, is headed to the University of Texas. Yet they have more in common than Texas, because Scheffler will be able to bring back to Royal Oaks great memories of the 17th green to share with Leonard.
“We talked a lot about the golf course, but never talked much about the 17th green,” said Scheffler, as cool a 17-year-old as you’ll find.
But maybe they will now? He smiled, knowing they could have a great conversation about it.
In Round 1, Scheffler was 2 down when he birdied 17, then won 18 with a par to force overtime. He won on the 20th against Stewart Jolly.
In Round 2, Scheffler was 1 down when he birdied 17 to square the match against Brandon Hagy. Again, Scheffler won on the 20th hole.
Against Matthias Schwab in Round 3, Scheffler was 1 down when he birdied the 17th, then he won at 18 when his opponent made bogey.
Three matches, three crucial birdies at 17. Is he sure Leonard didn’t give him the secret before leaving Royal Oaks? The young man, who just a few weeks ago won the U.S. Junior Amateur smiled, but shook his head. No secrets, no advice, but if you ask Callie, his caddie for the week, there’s a simple explanation.
“He can grind it around. He’s not afraid to work for it,” said the sophomore-to-be at Texas A&M. “He thrives under pressure.”
Alas, the thrilling ride came to an end for Scheffler, as he watched Aussie Brady Watt script the drama in their quarterfinal match. Down a hole, Watt rolled in a 20-footer from the back fringe at the 15th to square the match, then at the 18th he made a brilliantly deft up-and-down from just long at the 18th to win, 1 up.
If for a few moments the heartache was there, soon the smiles on Team Scheffler appeared and they matched the weather – warm and vibrant. They were especially so when the Schefflers were asked about their favorite piece of property at The Country Club, the 17th green.
No theatrics on this day, but there was a lighthearted moment even in the heat of the battle. With about a 25-footer for birdie from above the hole, Scottie Scheffler as he did all week asked his sister to help with the read.
“I pointed to a spot, but I didn’t bend all the way down,” Callie said, laughing.
“She pointed with her hand a few feet off the ground and I said, ‘You’re going to have to get a little closer than that,’ “ Scott said.
They laughed, even after the putt didn’t fall and even after they had lost the 18th hole. It was one of the best parts of the day, Scott Scheffler said, watching his daughter and son be able to laugh. “How can we not be happy. It’s all been fabulous,” he said. Then turning to his daughter, the father added: “You have no idea how proud I am to have looked out and seen the two of you.”
Chances are, Ted Matthews knows how Scott Scheffler feels, because he was afforded the chance to caddie for his son, Brandon. A sophomore-to-be at Temple, Brandon Matthews rolled to three victories before he, too, lost in the quarterfinals, 5 and 3 to another Aussie, Oliver Goss, but he will take nothing but positive memories from The Country Club.
And having his dad on the bag will be part of it?
“You kidding? He’s my dad. It was great, the best part.”
On a week that began with 312 players, Matthews stood out for the lengths to which he went at the par-5 12th. The hole isn’t quite the length of the official route of the Boston Marathon, but it’s not too far off, as much as 625 yards. Uphill. And it turns left. Yet not once but twice did Matthews reach the green, though he must mention that the eagle with which he’s credited can’t be considered a true one.
“It was conceded,” he said.
Still, the tall and powerful Matthews – he of the football player’s build – pointed to the fact that he never was able to use his best weapon in the match against Goss.
“When I hit it straight, I can go really low,” Matthews said, though he confirmed on this day he hit just three fairways. “I was almost scared to hit (driver).”
At another corner of The Country Club, to the right of the 15th green, fear was not part of the scene. With the Fitzpatrick brothers – Matthew, 18, and Alex, 14 – smiles and laughter were the order of business. The young Englishman with the infectious smile had won by a 4 and 3 score for a fourth straight match and now he and his equally adorable brother/caddie were signing autographs and posing for photos.
“My mom and dad have been walking around all week and they said that there’s been so many American people who are rooting for me, which is nice,” said Fitzpatrick. He wore a wide smile, which seems to be cemented on, but he even got happier when asked about his brother signing autographs and posting for pictures, too.
This family affair thing? It surely has a place at this U.S. Amateur.