2005: Competition - Lovemark makes his mark at Western

Benton Harbor, Mich.

Forget the Western Amateur’s reputation as the toughest grind in golf. These days, it’s child’s play.

Six teenagers breezed through 72 holes of stroke play in three days and qualified for the appropriately named “Sweet 16” matches at Point O’Woods Golf & Country Club. And one of them manhandled four older, more experienced opponents to emerge July 31 as the youngest winner in the event’s 103-year history.

Jamie Lovemark, 17, is a soft-spoken, lanky Californian who surfs in his free time. He caught a wave at the Western that washed over, in succession:

Andres Gonzales, the medalist who had shot 72-68-70-67–277. Gonzales, a senior at UNLV, was the only man to have a lead against Lovemark, 1 up at the turn, before losing, 3 and 1.

Danny Green, who is 31 years older than Lovemark and lists victories at the 1997 Western Amateur and the ’99 U.S. Mid-Amateur among his many credits. He lost, 2 and 1.

Luke List, the 2004 U.S. Amateur runner-up from Vanderbilt who came in No. 9 in the Golfweek/Titleist Amateur Rankings. He fell, 5 and 4.

Chris Wilson, the reigning Ohio Amateur champion who plays for Northwestern. Wilson’s reputation and confidence got a boost when he beat Andrew Dodt, a top Australian junior; Philip Francis, the nation’s top-ranked junior; and Brad Iles, the top amateur in New Zealand, to reach the final against Lovemark, which he lost, 3 and 2.

Lovemark dismissed the suggestion that he lacked experience coming in. He won the Western Junior last summer, and with this victory became only the third player to have won the Western Junior and Western Amateur titles. (Bobby Clampett and Jim Wiechers are the others.)

“I’ve won some pretty big junior events,” he said. “You’ve got to learn how to win. Once you’ve won one time, the second time is easier.”

Yet Lovemark acknowledged he was apprehensive about facing such an accomplished field. His opening 69 in stroke play, he said, was a confidence builder. And certainly it was an omen when he holed a 100-foot-plus putt two days later to gain one of three spots in a five-man playoff for the “Sweet 16.” After winning the 10th hole in Round 1 against Gonzales, he never trailed the rest of the weekend. No opponent took Lovemark past the 16th hole.

Unlike many of today’s junior prodigies, Lovemark is not the product of a full-time golf academy program. His swing is essentially self taught. He characterized himself as a “feel player” who likes to work things out by himself on the range when his swing gets loose.

For example, Lovemark said he “didn’t have the best ball-striking round” against Gonzales, so he put some practice time in between rounds. The result was five birdies and no bogeys that afternoon against Green.

One person Lovemark didn’t have to worry about was Michael Sim, the No. 1 player in the Golfweek/ Titleist Amateur Rankings, who was second after 36 holes of stroke play. Sim careened to a third-round 77, then was the first man ousted from the playoff that Lovemark survived.

In the final, Wilson lost the first hole and never got untracked against Lovemark. But his week was nonetheless gratifying.

“I know I have the ability to be here,” he said. “And I know I’ve worked hard enough to be where I am. It’s good to finally see the results. . . . I feel like I can play with anybody right now in the country.”

Meanwhile, five other teens reached match play, proving they can hold their own, too.

Jon McLean, 19, is the son of renowned instructor Jim McLean and a freshman at TCU. He was beaten by Green, 1 up, in Round 1.

Randy Lowry, 18, is a Texas freshman and the reigning Houston City Amateur champ. He lost to List, 3 and 1, in Round 2.

Francis, 16, from Scottsdale, Ariz., is No. 1 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings. He lost to Wilson in 22 holes in Round 2.

Dodt, 19, shot a tournament-low 64 in Round 3. He lost to Wilson, 1 up, in Round 1.

Seung-Su Han, 18, a freshman at UNLV, was the 2002 AJGA Player of the Year. He lost in Round 1 to Georgia senior Richard Scott, 1 up.

For good measure, Rory Hie, a 16-year-old Californian (by way of Indonesia) who is No. 2 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, shot 66 and was alone in second place after Round 1. He shot 77 the next day and eventually missed the “Sweet 16” playoff by a shot.

Assuming the teen trend continues, watch out for Hie in 2006.

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