2002: Good medicine: Klauk wins Western
Benton Harbor, Mich.
John Klauk did not have lofty expectations entering the 100th Western Amateur, and why would he? He dislocated his left shoulder lifting weights in June after the NCAA Championship and didn’t practice for a month and a half. Then he averaged 74 the previous week at the Porter Cup. And his putting stroke was something of a mess. Short and quick is not desirable when shooting pool or golf.
“My parents told me to keep plugging, that it would get better,” the 23-year-old from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., said.
It did, but insecurity tugged at him here, too. He had to survive a playoff to reach the Sweet 16 match play. And he faced elimination on 18 in the quarterfinals until the usually clutch Danny Green missed a 6-foot birdie putt.
But, golf being golf, Klauk adjusted, and in the end, did more than survive. He flourished. Doubt turned into more esteem than he’s ever carried.
First, the greenkeeper’s kid eliminated Kevin Stadler, Green and Jim Seki. Then he saved his best for last. In a battle of seniors from Texas colleges, the University of Texas second-team All-America blitzed Adam Rubinson of Texas Christian, 6 and 5, to win the grueling Western Amateur Aug. 4 at Point O’Woods Golf and Country Club.
“Beating a field like this gives me great confidence,” the champion said after he played eight rounds in five days and witnessed names such as Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Ben Crenshaw on the trophy.
In the final, Klauk went 7 under for 13 holes. He shot 6-under-par 29 on the front nine to take a 5-up lead over Rubinson. Klauk birdied No. 1 from 31⁄2 feet, No. 3 from a foot and the seventh from 10 feet for a three-hole edge. The stiffed 9-iron at the third came from 166 yards, over trees from the left rough.
Then he struck what he called “one of the best shots of my life” on the 287-yard eighth – a driver to 6 feet en route to eagle. Rubinson had wedged to 21⁄2 feet from 71 yards after Klauk drove the green.
“It could’ve been the best shot I’ve ever hit,” Klauk said. “I’ve had three holes-in-one, but to hit it that close with a driver on a par 4 in the final of a tournament like this . . .”
Rubinson, the 2002 NCAA runner-up by a stroke, knew what hit him. “I ran into a buzzsaw,” the lifelong Fort Worth resident said. “It was amazing.”
Klauk went 5 up when Rubinson took three to get down from 80 feet on the ninth, his third three-putt on the front. The winner clinched with a two-putt birdie from 25 feet on the 555-yard 13th.
“I putted well all week, but I don’t know where that (his first 29) came from,” said Klauk, a fifth-year senior who is out of eligibility but plans to return to Austin to complete a degree in sports management. “I wouldn’t have wanted to play myself today.”
Afterward, Klauk flew home to Florida for a 9:45 a.m. Monday tee time in U.S. Amateur qualifying. He said he might turn pro this fall and enter the PGA Tour’s Q-School. His older brother Jeff, a two-time Western Amateur Sweet 16 performer, plays the Buy.com Tour. They were introduced to golf by their father, Fred, longtime superintendent at the TPC at Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship.
John, the 1997 AJGA Player of the Year, won two college titles in four years, but he was unsure what the summer would bring after injuring his left shoulder in early June. He couldn’t hit balls without feeling he was pulling out the joint. He said he was “worried” when told he might need surgery. Instead, he rehabilitated with light weights while not playing for six weeks.
“I still feel stiffness when I lift my arm, but not when I swing,” he said.
That was apparent here, especially Sunday. In that morning’s semifinals, which featured four college seniors, Klauk beat Seki of Stanford, 3 and 2, while Rubinson defeated Brady Stockton of Arizona State, 2 and 1.
Klauk’s toughest match was in the quarterfinals against Green, 45, the 1997 Western champion. Klauk won in 20 holes, making seven birdies to Green’s six. He clinched on the 525-yard second hole, where he two-putted for birdie from 15 feet after hitting a wonderful 3-iron shot from 235 yards.
Green went 3 down with a bogey on the 216-yard 11th, where his tee shot hit a sprinkler head just off the fringe and bounced 20 yards over the green. “I lost four holes in that short stretch on stuff that doesn’t happen once in 100 times,” Green said.
Green, however, birdied 13, 15 and 16 from short range to pull even, then matched Klauk’s 10-foot birdie putt for deuce at 17 with one from 9 feet. Green, the only member of the Sweet 16 over age 23, then had a 6-footer at 18 to win, but missed 3 inches right.
“I just choked,” Green said. “I didn’t stroke it. My 45-year-old nerves wouldn’t let me hit it. Right before I hit it I thought of the 4-footer I missed last year at the (U.S.) Publinks that would’ve put me in the Masters. That’s a nice thought, huh?”
Klauk was surprised as well. “I thought it was over,” he said.
Thirty-one holes and 22 hours later, though, he was the last man standing.