Reflections on the Amateur

By Mike RitzAugust 26, 2001, 4:00 pm
If ever a place and an event were made for one another, this was it. East Lake and the U.S. Amateur. East Lake Golf Club was Bobby Joness club. The Amateur was Joness championship.

Jones won the Amateur Championship five times. The final time ' in 1930 ' gave him a sweep of all four major championships that year.
 
As the 312 players who started this week in the 101st U.S. Amateur Championship walked through East Lakes historic clubhouse, 312 jaws dropped.
 
The centerpiece in the lobby was the Havemeyer Trophy, the glamorous prize awarded to the Amateur champion. On display on the front wall are all four trophies from Joness 1930 Grand Slam. The staircase is lined with newspaper clippings of the golfing greats many accomplishments. One walks through this place and realizes it is golfs hallowed ground.

My God! This is where he played. This was his championship. To win this U.S. Amateur championship would surely be something special.
 
The 312 were whittled down to 64 for match play. The youngest player to make it that far was 17-year-old Daniel Summerhays of Farmington, Utah. Bobby Jones would have been proud of Summerhays, whose uncle, Bruce, stars on the Senior P.G.A. Tour. After young Daniel surprised everyone, especially himself, by winning his first three matches and advancing to the quarterfinals, he said, I really didnt expect to do much when I got here.
 
The high school senior had a wonderful perspective. I figured if I played real well I might make it into match play and maybe win one. Im just enjoying being here Im soaking it all in, he said.
 
Daniel never stopped smiling, even after he lost in the quarters to Robert Hamilton. As Jones, himself, might have said, Summerhays gushed I just love the game of golf.

The stamp of Bobby Jones is, thankfully, all over this championship. The two players good enough and lucky enough to make it to the final earn invitations to the Masters ' the championship created by Jones.

Next year the aforementioned Hamilton and Ben Bubba Dickerson will get to play Augusta National in April. After winning their semi-final matches they both said, Its a dream come true.

Dickerson had just missed an invitation to the Masters last year when he lost in extra holes in the final of the U.S. Public Links Championship. Hamilton had never come close. In fact, the former University of California golfer had tried and failed to qualify for the Amateur six previous times.
 
In Sundays 36-hole final, it was the more experienced Dickerson who looked nervous early. Bubba double-bogeyed the second hole and bogeyed the fourth. Meantime, a steady Hamilton birdied holes three and five to win four holes in a row and go four-up through the first five. All week long Robert had said hed been eerily focused. The key to his success was the ability to stay in the moment. Hamilton was enjoying this moment.

Dickerson had matched or bettered par in four of his five previous matches. His worst medal score was one over par. But in the final Bubba was five-over through 14 and five-down. Dickerson had rallied from two-down with four to play in the semi-finals and he came from behind again. Bubba birdied two of the final four in the morning 18 while Hamilton bogeyed two of four. Dickerson captured four holes in a row. When they broke for lunch, Hamiltons lead had dwindled to just one hole.

The second 18 was a nail-biter. No one led by more than one hole. It was all square when the two reached the 36th. The match ended when Dickerson hit a brilliant tee shot to 12 feet on the 235-yard par-3 and Hamiltons shot buried under the lip of a bunker. Dickerson had the luxury of three putts to win the championship. He calmly rolled in his birdie for a one-up victory.

What a summer its been for Dickerson. He helped his Florida Gators win the N.C.A.A. championship. He won the prestigious Western Amateur and now becomes the first player since Tiger Woods to win the Western and the U.S. Amateur the same year.
 
When asked what went through his mind when he faced a five-hole deficit today, Dickerson said he remembered how Tiger had rallied from six-hole deficits to win two of his Amateur titles.

Now Dickerson can look forward to next April when he will be paired with Woods for the first two rounds of the Masters. The Amateur champion and the defending Masters champion. A Tiger and a Bubba at Bobbys place.
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.