LOS ANGELES – No town does drama like LA, but even by Hollywood standards this was a finish that no one saw coming.
OK, except John Redman.
Conspicuous in a Clemson orange fishing shirt, he had spent the past eight hours pacing Riviera Country Club and puffing on an e-cigarette. But with his son Doc’s U.S. Amateur title hopes fading, the elder Redman felt compelled to emerge from the trees. On the 17th hole, he sidled up to Clemson assistant coach Jordan Byrd and dismissed any notion of impending doom.
“This is not over,” Redman said. “This is not over yet.”
And sure enough, the next 45 minutes produced some of the most thrilling and gut-wrenching action in the 117-year history of this championship.
With a red-hot putter and stone-cold demeanor, Doc Redman walked in a 60-footer for eagle on 17, stiffed his approach into the final hole and then made a conceded birdie on the first playoff hole to steal the U.S. Amateur title and stun Doug Ghim in 37 holes.
“I don’t want to overdo it,” John Redman said later, clutching the gold Havemeyer Trophy, “but Doc could have missed 15 putts in a row and if there’s one person I need to make a 10-footer to win a tournament, I’d substitute Doc every time.
“Dude is super clutch.”
There’s no doubt about that now.
Little was known about the 19-year-old from Raleigh, N.C., until the recent Western Amateur, where he steamrolled the best field in amateur golf en route to the finals. In the championship match against Norman Xiong, Redman fell 4 down at the turn, but he chipped away at his deficit, lipped out a putt to win on the 18th hole and ended up taking Xiong to 22 holes before eventually falling.
“A lot less dramatic,” he said with a wry smile.
But watching from outside the ropes that week was U.S. Walker Cup captain Spider Miller, who was enthralled with Redman’s “bulldog” mentality.
“This is the toughest match-play guy I’ve ever seen,” Miller said.
During his first year at Clemson, Redman worked with two sports psychologists and devoured a handful of mental-game books. Recently accepted into the school’s Honors College with an emphasis in mathematics, Redman takes a methodical approach to his game, but a message this spring from the coach of the New Zealand rugby team – “Pressure is a privilege” – seemed to resonate.
“He just thrives in that situation,” Byrd said. “It narrows his focus. The moment isn’t too big for him.”
It seemed unlikely that Redman would even be in position to win the U.S. Amateur after qualifying. He was fortunate just to land in a 13-for-8 playoff, and his par was enough to secure his spot in match play.
All week, Clemson head coach Larry Penley and Redman have had a running joke: S&A. Survive and advance.
After the playoff, Redman texted his coach: “I guess I survived. Now I need to advance.”
And then he did, taking four of his five opponents to the 18th hole before hanging on to win. On the eve of the championship match, Penley tapped out a final pep talk: “You have survived. You cannot advance any further. Now go out and let’s win this darn thing.”
All it took was one of the wildest performances ever.
After a shaky double-bogey start, Redman had 12 consecutive one-putts and shot a back-nine 30 to take a 1-up lead over Ghim into the lunch break.
Eight of the first 10 holes in the afternoon were halved with par, but Ghim began his comeback with a birdie on the 29th hole to square the match, then took a 2-up lead after pars on the 31st and 34th holes.
Two up with two to play, and with only a single bogey all day, the Texas senior seemed on the verge of a redemptive performance. Just three years ago, he stood on the final hole of the U.S. Amateur Public Links with a 1-up lead, then blasted his tee shot of bounds. He made double bogey, then lost in the playoff, and he vowed not to make the same mistake twice.
But this loss was even more agonizing.
With Ghim looking at about 5 feet for birdie on 17 to seal the match, Redman eyed a must-make 60-footer for eagle.
“I’d reminded him all week that he was the best putter I’d ever seen,” said his caddie, Dean Emerson.
Playing at least 3 feet of break, Redman stroked his putt and began walking down the line.
His ball slammed into the back of the cup.
“His putting was insane,” Emerson said, and indeed it was – Redman sank four putts of at least 30 feet, and he holed countless testers inside 10 feet.
“He is a great putter,” Byrd said, “but today was epic.”
Then it was Ghim’s turn to gather himself.
Ghim’s father and caddie, Jeff, reminded him that he still was in control with a 1-up lead, but he opened the door with an approach shot into 18 that expired short of the green. Wasting little time, Redman carved a 9-iron up and around a tree that finished 9 feet away.
Of course that one found the bottom of the cup, too.
“Those were two really heavy blows,” Ghim said.
What came next seemed inevitable, with one player sprinting toward the finish line, the other stumbling.
Redman smashed his 3-wood into the perfect spot, just short of the diabolical 10th green, while Ghim rope-hooked his tee shot into the hay left of the green. With no shot to go at the tucked flag, Ghim caught too much ball and sent his pitch shot screaming over the green, into a bunker. He had no shot from there, either, and he couldn’t hold the green with his bunker shot. After another mediocre bunker shot and missed 10-footer, he conceded Redman’s birdie. Redman played the last three holes in 4 under par.
“What can I do?” Ghim said.
The finish was awkward, with all of the contrasting emotions.
Redman barely cracked a smile all day, but he finally allowed himself to soak in the adulation. On the other side of the green was Ghim, who waited nearly three minutes to be interviewed on TV and then stared vacantly as the trophy presentation was hastily assembled.
This was no Hollywood ending, at least not for Ghim.
“I gave everything I had,” he said, shaking his head, “and it just wasn’t enough.”