ERIN, Wis. – As if beating a top-ranked opponent to win the U.S. Amateur championship wasn’t enough, Kelly Kraft got some more good news even before he walked off the 18th green.
With his victory over UCLA star Patrick Cantlay at Erin Hills on Sunday, Kraft also earned a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team.
Kraft beat Cantlay 2-up in the 36-hole final Sunday, taking down the No. 1 player in the world amateur rankings. Both finalists will receive a spot in next year’s U.S. Open, and both traditionally are invited to the Masters. As the winner, the 22-year-old Kraft also gets a spot in the British Open.
That’s provided both players keep their amateur status, something Kraft seemed to be leaning toward.
“I mean, I definitely want to play in the Masters,” Kraft said. “That’s something I have to think about.”
Kraft, from Denton, Texas, just finished his senior season at SMU - several former teammates were on hand to cheer him on Sunday - but he definitely was the lesser-known player in the final.
The 19-year-old Cantlay is considered a rising star with a promising future in the professional ranks. And after showing he can compete against professionals, including an appearance at the U.S. Open, Cantlay didn’t take much solace in playing well at Erin Hills all week.
“You don’t come to a golf tournament to finish second,” said Cantlay, who had two extra-hole victories in the event but couldn’t come up with the shots he needed Sunday with the title at stake.
Cantlay already was on the Walker Cup team headed to Scotland next month, and now Kraft will join him.
Immediately after the tournament, USGA officials announced that Kraft, Jordan Spieth of Dallas and Auburn player Blayne Barber had been added to the team.
Kraft found out he’d been added to the team right after he won.
“I just won the tournament, and then they told me this,” Kraft said. “I about had a heart attack.”
All week long, Cantlay had dominated the 17th and 18th holes - including the first round on Sunday, when Cantlay won the last two holes to cut Kraft’s lead from 4-up to 2-up going into the final 18 holes.
“That wasn’t even in my head,” Cantlay said.
But when Cantlay took back-to-back bogeys on 15 and 16 in the final match, he couldn’t make up for it.
“I threw away the golf tournament on 15 and 16, and wasn’t able to recover on 17 and 18,” Cantlay said.
Cantlay hit a birdie putt on the par-5 14th, taking a 1-up lead.
But Cantlay made a mistake on the par-4 15th, attempting to lay up with an iron shot on his drive - but instead putting it into a bunker, then skying his second shot over the green.
“I figured 8-iron would be short of the bunkers - but not when you pull-hook your 8-iron, it gets a big bounce,” Cantlay said. “That was that.”
Cantlay left a long par putt just short, and Kraft made par to again square the match.
Kraft was frank in his assessment of Cantlay’s decision to lay up off the tee on 15, a hole that was playing short on Sunday.
“I thought it was a mistake,” Kraft said. “I mean, that hole plays as a par 3 today. That’s just not something I would have done.”
Cantlay then missed a par putt on the par-3 16th after pushing his first putt well past the hole, allowing Kraft to take a 1-up lead. Cantlay missed his par putt on 18 and conceded the hole - and the match - to Kraft.
“Obviously, he played better than me,” Cantlay said. “But I feel like I threw away the golf tournament.”
Kraft’s college golf eligibility is up, but he has a year left of school at SMU and says he intends to get his sociology degree - a proclamation that caused some of his teammates to start laughing in the back of the room during his news conference.
Kraft sheepishly admitted that his mind wasn’t on academics at the moment.
“I have no idea what my classes are,” Kraft said. “I sent all my teachers emails. I hope they’re not going to see this, but I haven’t looked at any of the syllabuses or anything. They’re not going to be happy with me missing more school for the Walker Cup, either. It’s OK, though.”