U.S. Amateur to Walker Cup, USGA events deliver high emotion in 2017

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U.S. Amateur to Walker Cup, USGA events deliver high emotion in 2017

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U.S. Amateur to Walker Cup, USGA events deliver high emotion in 2017

Of all the U.S. Amateur’s jaw-dropping moments, Doc Redman’s 33rd-hole par putt best exemplified the display of persistence behind the 19-year-old’s win over Doug Ghim.

Following a solid recovery shot from one of Riviera Country Club’s deep greenside bunkers, Redman faced a downhill, left-to-right 10-footer. Ghim was in with his own par and 1 up in what was already an incredible duel.

“Good shot,” said Fox’s Curtis Strange before cutting his microphone sound. “But he’s got no chance to make that. Impossible putt.” The two-time U.S. Open champion was not totally wrong. The putt was everything a right-hander generally hates: downhill and breaking significantly left-to-right with huge match implications for a player who had only appeared on the national stage a few weeks earlier at the Western Amateur.

An all-time best U.S. Amateur final

Strange knew the difficulty of reading Riviera’s subtle poa annua putting surfaces. Nonetheless, he uttered his Bob Rosburg-like prediction within earshot of Redman’s dad, John, and Doc’s Clemson assistant coach, Jordan Byrd. The two looked on stoically with full confidence in their 19-year-old protégé. After all, the No. 70 amateur in the world had made everything he looked at. And he did so again on that 33rd hole.

Redman lost the 16th before staging a comeback that ranks among the all-time best U.S. Amateur finals. He won on the 37th hole, having hit 19 fairways but only 14 greens, yet with match-play concessions would have posted rounds of 66-69. The North Carolina native made putts of all sizes and shapes. He handled the wacky, wiry Kikuyu grass that comprises Riviera’s fairways and roughs, a type of grass he had never seen until he stepped foot on the storied course.

For Ghim, the University of Texas senior, there was no shame in losing the last two holes after going dormie. The Chicago-area native closed the morning session with a back-nine 32 to Redman’s 31, hit 16 fairways and 16 greens for the final, and would have posted scores of 69-68 at Hogan’s Alley.

“It was like a chess match, it was like a blinking contest,” Ghim said. “Who’s going to blink first?”

Ghim never blinked with his clubs, only at the unbelievable sight of Redman rolling in a monster 35th-hole eagle putt before birdieing the legendary
18th to tie the match. All of this Hollywood-esque drama played out in front of a national TV audience savoring a script only Tinseltown could muster: a sudden-death playoff at Riviera’s infamous short par-4 10th hole. There, Redman’s par was good enough to win.

The epic final came on the heels of the U.S. Women’s Amateur a few hours down the coast at San Diego Country Club. Sophia Schubert defeated Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela 6 and 5 with her University of Texas coach Ryan Murphy on the bag. The 21-year-old never trailed.

‘Vagaries of match play’ gets new meaning 

But it was a quarterfinal match at San Diego CC that set records and went viral. Chinese Taipei’s Chia Yen Wu, a 13-year-old, beat Lauren Stephenson in 30 holes, breaking the USGA’s previous record match length (for a planned 18-hole match) of 28 holes set at the 1930 U.S. Amateur and again at the 1960 U.S. Junior Amateur. The back-and-forth antics were carried on Fox Sports 1 and gave new meaning to “vagaries of match play.”

No moment earned more social media attention than on the 26th hole when Stephenson appeared to have the match in hand with an approach to 3 feet, only to have Wu sink a 75-foot birdie putt. Stephenson, an All-American at Alabama who was a pre-event favorite, took the madness well. To a point.

“Usually in match play, you’re kind of joking with yourself, you have to expect they’re going to make it. But with her, I would tell my dad, I’m not kidding, every chip she hits or putts I have to expect that it’s going to go in because she’s right on it every time,” Stephenson said.

The thrills continued in the 46th Walker Cup at Los Angeles Country Club, the Golden State’s third USGA championship in a little over five weeks. The successful run was played out in perfect weather on stellar courses, and it was no coincidence that epic golf ensued, said former USGA executive director David Fay, who was on hand for Fox’s broadcasts. He believes the combination of architecture and quality play made this year almost as epic in USGA amateur golf history as 1981, when the men’s Amateur (Olympic Club) and Walker Cup (Cypress Point) were also in California.

5 Moments of Note in 2017

Captained by Spider Miller and kicked off in style with an address by former President George W. Bush, the USA drove the ball longer, strategized better and made more putts in a 19-7 rout. Team USA was spearheaded by Ghim, Maverick McNealy and Collin Morikawa, who made history by each going 4-0, a first in Walker Cup history. Miller’s restrained approach to the captaincy was especially admirable given that he could have over-managed the team following the 2015 loss. Instead, the amateur great wheeled out a loose and happy group who capped off a special year for the amateur game.

“Given the fabulous golf course quality – even mystic really – of this year’s lineup, we had anticipated it could be a special year,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “There have been some great men’s and women’s U.S. Amateurs going back to 1895, but it’s hard to imagine more drama than what we saw at Riviera and San Diego. Add to that the fabulous play at LACC for the Walker Cup, and amateur golf is indeed alive and well. 2017 is one that history will remember.”

(Note: This story is one in a series reviewing the year in golf. It appears in the November 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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