Hakula, Porteous advance to British Amateur final

Toni Hakula

Toni Hakula

DEAL, England – Finland’s Toni Hakula is glad he gave up hockey to play golf. That decision could lead to victory in the British Amateur Championship and land him a spot in the Open Championship, the Masters and next year’s US Open. First he has to get past England’s Garrick Porteous.

Hakula, who has just finished his junior year at the University of Texas, defeated local boy Max Orrin 4&2 to take his place in the 36-hole final over Royal Cinque Ports. Former Tennessee player Porteous outlasted incoming Stanford freshman Jim Liu, taking the match on the 19th hole.

Call the contest the bruiser versus the artist. Porteous has never played hockey, but he has a pretty decent portfolio of artwork. The 23-year-old graduated with a degree in Studio Art in December.

Hakula might never have gone to Texas had he decided on a career in hockey in his homeland. He was good enough to play for his local team Jokerit, near his hometown of Espoo close to the Finnish capital Helsinki.

“My parents hated golf,” Hakula said. “I got interested in golf when I was four, watching it on TV. From then on I just wanted to play golf. I had to make a decision at 14 on which one to choose and it was golf all the way.”

Parents Tommi and Helena love the game now. Mum is caddying for him this week, while dad is acting as forecaddie. Toni’s sister Anne, meanwhile, has signed a letter of intent to also play for Texas.

A sizeable crowd turned up to watch Hakula battle it out with Orrin. The 19-year Englishman is a member of Royal Cinque Ports. However, Hakula didn’t let the occasion faze him.

Hakula went one up after two, but bogeyed the third to go back to all square. It stayed that way until the ninth when the Finn won three holes in a row. He closed out the match on the 16th when he hit a 3-iron 216 yards into the wind to five foot for a 4&2 win.

“My goal this week was just to make the match play stages, because anything can happen after that,” he said. “I haven’t made too many mistakes this week. I haven’t made a lot of bogeys.”

He isn’t a surprise finalist either. He helped the Longhorns win the National Championship two years ago.

Porteous didn’t win a national title with Tennessee, but it was there that he developed into a pretty decent player. So decent he will probably make this year’s GB&I Walker Cup team. His performance here has likely sealed his place.

The 23-year-old Englishman probably won’t play as bizarre a match at the National Golf Links as the one he had against Liu. One up after winning the 13th and 14th holes, he lost the 15th with a bogey and the 17th when Liu holed an excellent 15-foot, downhill, birdie putt.

“I was quite surprised coming down the last hole,” he said. “ I thought I was going to have to make birdie to keep the match alive.”

What happened next was truly bizarre. Liu shanked his second shot from the fairway, just missing the Englishman by a whisker. The 17-year-old found deep rough near a little stream and could only hack out. He eventually made a double bogey six to send the match to an extra hole.

Porteous thought the match was over when his second shot at the extra hole found a stream fronting the green. However, he took a drop and managed to salvage bogey. Liu handed him the hole, recording a double bogey thanks to a hooked tee shot, a hack out of the rough, a pitch onto the green and three putts.

“When I hit it into the water I thought it was a done deal,” Porteous said. “It just shows that anything can happen in match play.

“He‘s a good player but I knew if I kept it tight I’d have a chance on the last six holes because his ball flight is really high.”

Hakula is bidding to become only the second Finnish player to win the British Amateur following Mikko Ilonen in 2000. Porteous is hoping to become the first Englishman since Gary Wolstenholme in 2003.

The hockey player versus the artiste. Take your pick.

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