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No regrets

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RINGOES, N.J. – Steve Scott will be paying attention from afar to the drama that unfolds with the U.S. Amateur underway this week at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

Fifteen years ago, Scott found himself amid one of the most dramatic finals in the history of the championship.

Despite all the time that’s passed, Scott says hardly a day goes by that he isn’t asked about his duel with Tiger Woods, about how Woods beat him in a sudden-death playoff to claim a record third consecutive U.S. Amateur title at Pumpkin Ridge in North Plains, Ore.

“Just about every day, somebody brings it up, or wants to know about it,” Scott said during an interview in the clubhouse at The Ridge at Back Brook, where he is the head professional. “I relive it almost every day.”

If you’re wondering if the questions come as painful jabs, as annoying reminders that he lost that historic battle, you’re wrong. Scott says he’s grateful he’s remembered for his part in history. There’s proof in his office at the club. There are reminders all over his walls, photographs from that epic Sunday.

There’s one large photo Scott had blown up, with Scott hitting a tee shot at the 12th hole and Woods watching. It’s signed by Woods.

“Hi Steve,” Woods wrote. “Nice shot. Best wishes, Tiger Woods.”

Scott was 5 up that day, but he lost the match after it was extended to extra holes (38 holes).

“People wonder if I get tired of being asked about it,” Scott said. “It’s far from a sore subject. It was a great day for me. What happened in the U.S. Amateur finals set so many things in motion in my life. It opened so many doors.

“I’m linked to a great moment in golf history. I don’t shy away from it. I’m not haunted by it. I’ve learned to appreciate what it’s given me.”

Scott, who grew up in Coral Springs, Fla., made the Walker Cup and qualified for the Masters, where he played a practice round with Jack Nicklaus. But he's not remembered for those moments.

One of the questions Scott gets asked most about in that epic match is what happened at the 16th hole near the end of regulation. If not for Scott’s act of sportsmanship there, he might be remembered today as the U.S. Amateur champion. Woods had forgotten to replace his mark after moving it out of Scott's putting line, and Woods was preparing to putt when Scott reminded him. If Woods had played the shot incorrectly, Scott would have won the match 3 and 2.

Scott, 34, is frequently asked if he regrets speaking up.

“I will always be glad I told him to do that,” Scott said. “It would have been the wrong way to win. It was a total reflex. I guess my parents raised me the right way.”

There’s another question Scott hears a lot.

“People ask, `Whatever happened to that hot blonde who caddied for you that day?’” Scott said. “I tell them I married her.”

Formerly Kristi Hommel, she’s now Steve’s wife. The couple has two children, J.C., a 3-year-old boy, and Kaylie, an 8-month-old girl.

“Kristi’s a great partner,” Scott said. “She understands what I do. Right now, we’re just trying to get some sleep and figure out this parenting thing.”

Scott gave up the tour pro’s life in ’05. He enrolled at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and got the degree in communications he didn’t finish at the University of Florida, where he was an All-American for four years. He also enrolled in the PGA of America’s certification program to begin a new life as a club professional.

After leaving Florida, Scott turned pro, but his game didn’t blossom the way he imagined it would. In six tries at PGA Tour Qualifying School, he made it to the finals once, tying for 128th. He excelled on the Canadian Tour, winning twice, and played the Nationwide Tour, but he grew weary of the struggles on developmental circuits.

“It gets tiring playing mini-tours and not making much money,” Scott said. “I got to where I just didn’t have the passion for it anymore. I hated the travel.”

Scott said his ball striking put too much pressure on his short game.

“I saw so many guys, 35 and 40 years old, playing the Golden Bear Tour,” he said. “I didn’t want to be that guy. I wanted something different. I know golf, I love golf, and I’m a people person. I’m lucky to be at a club like The Ridge and be in the situation I’m in. I didn’t want to be a struggling mini-tour pro. I didn’t want to do that to my family.”

Kristi played golf and was a teacher. She knows the game. She understood Steve’s struggle.

“I really admired him for taking a long, hard look at life,' Kristi said. 'It was a tough decision for Steve, but he realized he didn't just have himself to think about, that he had a wife and that he wanted to create some stability for a family. I think [becoming a club pro] was one of the most courageous decisions he's made. There’s a balance in our life now, and Steve’s happier.”

Scott was working with Hall of Fame teacher Bob Toski in south Florida a decade ago, and he said Toski’s enthusiasm for teaching influenced him.

“His passion’s infectious,” Scott said. “I decided to take the fire and tenacity I had for competition and put it into my new career. I told myself I was going to be the best club professional I could be. I want to be a great club pro.”

At the U.S.Open in ’96, Scott was paired with Bob Ford, the popular head professional at both the prestigious Oakmont and Seminole clubs. They struck up a friendship. Ford became a mentor.

After a couple jobs as an assistant professional, Scott landed a job working for Joel Moore at The Ridge at Back Brook, a gorgeous test of skill in the rolling hills between Princeton and Flemington in New Jersey. Scott says they’re in discussions with the PGA Tour over the possibility of bringing a Champions Tour event there.

“Being a club professional is a good life,” Scott said. “I never thought I would enjoy it so much.”

Scott sees replays of his match with Woods on Golf Channel now and then, and it sparks an old competitive flame. Though he plays club professional events, he doesn’t have the same focus on competition.

What’s he remember most about the match?

“I remember being nervous but still playing great golf,” Scott said. “I remember Tiger Woods flying a bunker 290 yards away on the first playoff hole, a bunker I couldn’t dream of flying. I remember the sound of his ball off the clubface. I remember it sounding like a gunshot. I also remember making nine birdies.”

Scott hears what other folks remember from that day, and sometimes it makes him laugh.

“I had one guy ask me, ‘Hey aren’t you that guy who beat Tiger Woods in the U.S. Amateur?’” Scott said.

Scott would have relished winning, but being part of history is more than consolation.

“I beat a lot of good players out-preparing them,” Scott said. “I’m proud of what I accomplished.”