Weaver defeats Thomas for spot in U.S. Am final

Michael Weaver addresses the media after advancing to the final at the U.S. Am.

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Tears welled in Michael Weaver’s eyes.

He was waiting to conduct the winner’s interview following his semifinal victory in the U.S. Amateur when Golf Channel’s Dottie Pepper whispered in his ear, “There’s no crying in golf.”

There was today.

Weaver, channeling Arnold Palmer, birdied the first three holes at Cherry Hills – and five of the first 10 – to open a gigantic lead on Justin Thomas, the college player of the year as a freshman at Alabama, and hang on for a 3-and-2 victory.

“Yeah, the start was incredible,” said Weaver, a California junior from Fresno, Calif. “I felt like I couldn’t do anything wrong.”

Weaver attacked from the beginning, busting driver on the first three holes. At the opening hole, his majestic drive hopped into the front left bunker. He blasted to 7 feet and made birdie to go 1 up. He crushed a driver at the second to 80 yards – 85 yards past Thomas – flicked a sand wedge to 8 feet and made the putt to go 2 up. To avoid a rout, Thomas had to make birdie to halve the third hole, but he made a bogey from over the green at the fourth to fall 3 down.

Thomas had his best chance to cut into the deficit at the seventh hole, but he played too much break and missed an uphill 6-foot birdie putt on the left.

Weaver said he had been battling a shaky putter most of the summer. He blamed it for his failure to make the cut at the Western Amateur earlier this summer. But it was red hot on Saturday. He raised his right fist when he rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth hole to go 4 up.

“That really put a damper on things,” said Thomas, who shook his head in frustration as he walked to the ninth tee.

But he wasn’t giving up. He had rallied from 2 down in three of his matches already. His caddie, Michael Greller, reminded him that he had been 4 down to Scott Strohmeyer in the Round of 32 at the 2010 U.S. Amateur and had clawed his way back and taken that match to extra holes before losing.

Only problem was, Weaver continued to pour it on, curling in a 20-foot right-to-left breaker at the par-5 10th hole to extend his lead to 5 up.

Thomas did nibble away at the lead. He won the 12th and 14th holes with par saves, then hit a gap wedge to 12 feet and drained the downhill birdie putt to cut Weaver’s lead to 2 up.

“I gave myself a chance,” said Thomas, of Goshen, Ky. “I very easily could have just packed it in.”

Weaver sensed that Thomas had renewed enthusiasm, and he steadied himself thanks to a brief pep talk from his father and caddie, Bill.

“I was nervous,” Weaver conceded. “All the momentum was going (Thomas’) way.”

As they approached the 16th tee, Weaver’s father told his son to put the last hole in the past, Weaver said.

Meanwhile, Thomas continued to apply the pressure. He fired his approach within 15 feet of the hole at 16. Weaver summoned the type of clutch shot that has served him well all week, lofting a 9-iron from 179 yards to 7 feet.

“It was perfect,” Weaver said. “I think I probably hurt my dad’s hand fist bumping him afterwards. He wasn’t really paying attention. I kind of whacked him. I was so pumped up.”

Thomas’ 15-foot birdie putt grazed the right edge of the hole. Then Weaver stepped up and sealed the victory. He dropped his putter, yelled, “Yes,” and sank into the waiting arms of his father.

Soon thereafter, Weaver’s eyes grew cloudy. A faucet of tears would turn on each time he spoke about his father.

“My dad caddies for me all the time,” he said between sobs. “I’m so excited he could be here to be a part of this. I owe a lot to him. He’s supported me all along. Everything I need along the way, and I wouldn’t be here without him. And I’m just so happy that he could be here.”

Standing within earshot, Bill Weaver bit his bottom lip. His eyes grew glassy, too. It was OK to cry, especially when they were tears of joy.

• • •

SEMIFINALS

Michael Weaver def. Justin Thomas, 3 and 2

Steven Fox def. Brandon Hagy, 2 up

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