Monday, November 1, 2010
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – France’s Alexander Levy twice thrust his fists downward, then shouted “Yes! Yes!” after his 50-foot birdie putt slammed into the hole late Sunday afternoon.
As he waited for his playing partners to putt out, Levy circled the back of the island green, his hand on the back of his hat and his bearded face looking skyward. His expression was a combination of euphoria and disbelief.
Sinking a long putt is always a pleasant experience, even in a casual round. Making one to clinch your country’s first world title is an indescribable experience. Levy’s long putt on the 17th hole at Buenos Aires Golf Club was the exclamation point on a historic week.
France entered this year’s World Amateur Team Championship as one of 12 countries to win multiple medals. The French had claimed a silver (2002) and bronze (1992), but never the gold, at least until Levy’s lengthy birdie putt.
“Unbelievable. It’s fantastic,” Levy said. “It’s a great moment, a great, great moment.”
France won gold in the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in 2000; its captain this week, Maitena Delamontagne, was a member of that team.
When Levy’s approach shot hit the final green, a member of the French contingent pumped his arms up and down in celebration. Levy’s routine par ended the hopes of a last-minute United States charge, and those of a Denmark team that tried in vain to cling to the 36-hole lead, but still won its first WATC medal.
France shot a final-round, even-par 144 to finish at 7-under 423, four shots ahead of Denmark.
“At 13, we thought we had a chance and we were quite sure the boys would do it,” said Torben Nyehuus, Denmark’s captain. “But it kind of slipped away. We are small country with not a lot of good amateur golfers and this could be more than we could expect.”
The United States finished third, another shot back after shooting 143, which matched the low team round Sunday at Buenos Aires Golf Club. A team’s single-round score is the sum of the top two scores from the three-man team.
Levy, the French Amateur champ, and Lopez-Lazaro both shot 72 for France. Denmark’s 147 was the sum of individual medalist Joachmin Hansen’s 73 and a 74 from Morten Madsen, who plays at Oregon State.
Peter Uihlein led the United States with a 70, the low round Sunday at Buenos Aires Golf Club. David Chung contributed a 73.
New Zealand (435) finished fourth, despite playing the final two rounds with only two players. Scotland (436) finished fifth in its title defense. Ireland matched the United States’ 1-under 143 to move into a tie for sixth.
High winds at Buenos Aires led to a final-round team scoring average of 152.67 strokes. The 30 mph winds produced white caps on the lake in front of the ninth green.
Hansen shot 6-under 209 (67-69-73) to win the individual title by three shots over Levy (68-72-72).
“It’s very big for me,” Hansen said of winning the individual championship in his final amateur start. Hansen won a professional event on the Ecco Tour, as well as the Finnish Amateur, earlier this year. “I hope I can keep winning big titles like this.”
France’s Romain Wattel finished third at 2-under 213. Five players – Scotland’s James Byrne, New Zealand’s Ben Campbell, Germany’s Max Kieffer, Canada’s Eugene Wong and Uihlein – finished fourth at 214. Uihlein’s 70 Sunday was the low round at Buenos Aires, where the individual scoring average was 77.9 strokes.
This may have been France’s first gold medal at the WATC, but it should not be considered a surprise. All three French players are ranked in the top 30 in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com World Rankings.
Wattel, who won a Challenge Tour event earlier this year, is No. 5. Lopez-Lazaro is 23rd, and Levy is 24th. For Wattel and Lopez-Lazaro, this event marked the end their amateur careers.
Levy may have produced France’s most exciting moment in the final round, but Lopez-Lazaro’s comeback from a poor start was equally impressive. His score did not contribute to the team title in either of the first two rounds, and he was 4 over through six holes Sunday. He made four birdies and zero bogeys over his final 12 holes, though. He chipped in on the par-3 14th and made a 25-foot putt on No. 18.
“He hadn’t been the best player on the team after the first two rounds, so he decided that because he was the first to start today, he wanted to make it possible to open the door for his team,” said Delamontagne, who translated for Lopez-Lazaro.
His closing rally helped France seal victory. Uihlein’s rally almost completed an improbable U.S. comeback.
When Sunday’s play started, France was 7 under par, one shot ahead of Denmark. The United States was six shots back. After Sunday’s first nine holes, the Americans were eight shots back of France, and seven shots back of Denmark.
That’s when things quickly changed. Uihlein made birdies on Nos. 10, 12 and 14, holing a bunker shot for that final birdie.
Hansen hit his approach into the water on the par-4 12th hole and made double bogey, bogeyed the par-3 14th and drove into the water on the par-5 15th for another bogey.
“I hit some bad shots on the back nine,” Hansen said. “I don’t feel it was the nerves.”
Wattel also struggled in that stretch. He made bogey on the par-4 12th hole from a difficult downhill lie behind the green, then double bogeyed the 13th hole after hitting his tee shot in the hazard and three-putting from 20 feet.
As the final group of Chung, Hansen and Wattel was in the 15th fairway, France was 5 under par, one shot ahead of Denmark and two shots ahead of the United States. Denmark played Nos. 15-18 in 2 over par, while the United States was 1 over par on those holes. France played them in even par, thanks to the birdies by Lopez-Lazaro and Levy.
“He played really solid and hit a lot of greens,” Uihlein said of Levy. “He didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
And he made one memorable putt that will be the defining moment of France’s first World Amateur Team Championship.