2006: LaCassie helps make Western foreign affair
By Rex Hoggard
Benton Harbor, Mich.
By the time the final putt dropped to end the quarterfinal chapter of the Western Amateur, it became increasingly clear the storied tournament’s xenophobic ways would end, sooner rather than later.
Of the 103 previous editions of this championship, only two were won by a non-American. When Sunday arrived, what remained of the 155-player field almost was exclusively a Foreign Four, with the lone American hope hanging on the slumped shoulders of a 38-year-old former teaching pro turned car salesman.
But not even Scott Pieri, the reinstated mid-amateur who charmed the Point O’ Woods Golf and Country Club galleries and confounded opponents nearly half his age, could stop the international juggernaut.
Pieri fell one Cowboy short of a full posse – losing to Oklahoma State standout Pablo Martin, 5 and 3, after he dispatched Martin’s OSU teammates Jonathan Moore and Tyler Leon in the first two rounds of match play.
That left the final lap Aug. 6 around venerable Point O’ Woods to a pair of internationals, with 23-year-old Australian Bronson LaCassie completing his clinical march with a 2-and-1 victory over Spain’s Martin.
“Golf is becoming more and more popular all over the world and they are all coming (to the U.S.) to play in these events,” said LaCassie, a junior at the University of Minnesota.
Despite a roughshod run through match play, LaCassie looked nothing like a world beater while quietly picking his way through the 54 holes of stroke play, from which 16 players advanced to match play the final two days. His rounds of 71-69-70 gave him a middle-of-the-pack seeding and even his 6-and-5 rout of fellow Aussie Tim Stewart in the first round of match play left him searching for answers.
“After that match I hit a lot of balls on the range and I discovered something that I hadn’t felt in a long time,” said LaCassie, whose summer schedule had been limited to a single start at The Players Amateur, where he tied for 14th. “It’s just a feeling that I’m not flipping the club at the bottom (of his swing).”
The most important thing LaCassie discovered was how to win. Prior to the Western, the Brisbane native was a self-described runner-up, falling short more times than he cared to remember.
“When I was young, I think I came in second in almost every junior event I ever played,” LaCassie said.
His afternoon run-in with Martin was relatively stress free. Three quick birdies on the back nine (Nos. 10, 13 and 14) provided a comfortable three-hole cushion, and he closed out the title with a smooth 5-iron to 10 feet to set up birdie on No. 17.
All three of the passport-toting semifinalists now set their sights on the U.S. Amateur, an event that has featured no shortage of international champions. That the Western Amateur has not been as kind to foreigners is an anomaly bound for self-correction.
“Look at all the Australian guys who come here to play for three or four months,” Martin said. “That’s a sign that here is where golf is big. This is where guys want to play.”
Short shots: Danny Green, the 1997 Western Amateur champion, withdrew after an opening 79 at this year’s event. Green, 49, failed to survive the 36-hole cut for just the second time in 15 Western starts. . . . Point O’ Woods Golf and Country Club’s signature ninth hole will have a new look when players return next year. Club officials plan to take out the well-worn bridge that crosses a ravine between the tee and green and replace it with an earthen walkway. Officials also plan to remove a number of trees that line the right side of the hole.