Trouble to triumph, Anthony advances at U.S. Am

Jason Anthony hits a shot during the playoff for the final spots at the 2013 U.S. Amateur.

Jason Anthony hits a shot during the playoff for the final spots at the 2013 U.S. Amateur.

BROOKLINE, Mass. – It was the worst seat in the house – and not because it was a cold cooler well behind a wall of spectators.

No, the number 7 that sat beside his name made for Jason Anthony’s discomfort. He could have moved up closer to the 14th green and watched the action, but given how he had just made a triple bogey, the only seat that suited his mood was off to the side. Alone. Just him and his heartache.

“I didn’t put a score on it,” Anthony said, when asked what his thoughts were when he stepped to the tee just after 7 a.m. Wednesday. He was third to hit in the first foursome, leaders in a whopping 17-for-15 playoff to advance to match play in the 113th U.S. Amateur at The Country Club.

“I just wanted to hit the fairway.”

He failed, but guess what? So did the other three in the foursome – Rhys Pugh, Gavin Hall and Jordan Smith. It was not a pretty four-ball, truth be told, but here is something that is very close to gospel: “It’s the hardest par 4 in golf,” Anthony said.

Stretched to a massive 508 yards, No. 14 requires a tee shot to a fairway that slopes right to left and is guarded by rough that has been known to make life miserable for even the greatest golfers, a list that goes back to Harry Vardon and Francis Ouimet. The hole turns left, moves uphill, and the challenge once you take aim at the green is to carry over the false front, because anything short will roll back 15 to 25 yards.

The lead foursome set the stage. Pugh was in the right rough, Hall in the left rough, Anthony well left and pinned behind a tree, Smith wide right and beneath a tree. What followed was a series of shots that left each of them beguiled by The Country Club's rough and stymied by pressure. None of them reached the green in three shots. Pugh and Hall finally did on their fourth, but Anthony, having gone from left rough to right rough to more rough short left of the green, blew his fourth shot beyond the green.

Smith’s fourth shot did hit the green, but as he handed his wedge to his caddie and grabbed his putter, Smith peered up to see his ball coming back at him. Like Anthony, he needed a fifth shot to find the green. Like Anthony, he required two putts. Like Anthony, Smith went behind the green to be alone, in agony over his triple bogey.

Advantage, the next 13 players? No question. “Knowing what you need to make, you can change your strategy completely on the hole,” Anthony said.

The scoring improved, though it continued to show the demands of this hole. Ian Davis made a par 4, and three others – Gavin Green, Walker Cupper Patrick Rodgers and recently crowned U.S. Junior Amateur champ Scott Scheffler – made bogeys, so they were advanced.

Sean Yu, Zac Blair and Chase Koepka made bogeys, and even though Sean Walsh made double, that foursome advanced, too.

Only two players needed to be eliminated, and they sat to the rear of the 14th green – Smith shuffling around behind the green, Anthony on his cooler.

“I thought I was done,” Anthony said. “I thought I blew a chance.”

But in the final fivesome, Jade Scott rifled his drive far right and out-of-bounds. While the others in his group – Gerrit Chambers, Tyler Klava, Toni Hakula (bogeys) and Mario Clemens (par) – met the challenge, Scott did not. He threw the third triple bogey into the mix, and thus did the atmosphere do a 360.

Having already taken his wallet, watch and money out of his golf bag, Anthony slowly put them back in. If he appeared a bit stunned, he was. “I would never wish anyone make a triple bogey,” he said, “but it gave me a second chance, and I took advantage of it.”

At the 15th, where players have 491 yards of a challenge, each of the three was wide of the fairway, then wide of the green. Only Anthony got it up-and-down for par, his deft wedge from short right leaving him a 4-footer. No worry, right? “It felt longer,” he said.

And so, from the brink of ouster, Anthony was in the final 64. True enough, there was a layer of shock he had to filter through, but the elation was there. “I’m just excited to be in match play. The pressure’s off now. Match play is a one-of-a-kind format, and anything can happen.”

Much already has taken place in this game of golf for Anthony, 30, whose story adds the sort of flavor that makes the U.S. Amateur what it is. From his hometown of Fairfield, Calif., to Napa Valley Country Club to Fresno State, where he played a few years after Nick Watney, Anthony developed enough of a game to convince him that the professional stuff was in his future.

Four years, mostly on the Canadian PGA Tour, was enough to tell him it wasn’t.

“At 27, I had kind of an epiphany," he said. "I was done with golf. I put the clubs away for a year and started working for my dad.”

Jack Anthony owns and operates 7 Flags Car Wash, which his 11 locations throughout northern California, and Jason Anthony is free of the pressures that came with trying to make it in professional golf.

He got his amateur status back, and though it’s the same game, it’s so much different.

“It became a job for me, but I’m enjoying golf now,” he said. “I wasn’t enjoying it at all as a pro. I always was one of those guys (who figured he would quit) if I knew I couldn’t beat that guy, but it never got to that point.

“It just became so stressful. I’m so much more at peace now.”

Jack and Jason played in the Northern California Four-Ball Championship, something the son never had the chance to experience, and last year he made it into the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills. Two days and out, not a favorable experience, but this year’s trip cross-country has turned out better. Shockingly, perhaps, given that he didn’t think his triple bogey on the first playoff hole was going to survive, but this is a crazy game.

Anthony had teed off at No. 14 at a few minutes past 7 a.m. Then he had sat behind the 15th green for 45 minutes in an autumn-like chill. His tee shot off the 15th hole had come at about 8:07 a.m. At about 8:20, he was told he had the 64th and final seed and a 1:10 p.m. tee time against co-medalist Neil Raymond.

The last one in might just as well have been the happiest one at the party.

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