Amateurs Finest Hour

By Michael ArkushApril 2, 2008, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: The following is a special feature courtesy LINKS Magazine
 
Amateur is not a term of derision at the Masters. Rather, largely due to the example set by tournament co-founder Bobby Jones, amateurs leave Augusta much richer in experience, if not in their wallets. They get to stay in the Crow's Nest in the clubhouse for the week and are feted during an annual dinner, one of the Masters' grand traditions. (The other pre-tournament dinner is the one with a strict dress code: green jacket required.) Amateurs play practice rounds with the game's greats and are paired with past champions for the first two rounds.
 
'That was living the dream for me,' says Matt Kuchar, who played the 1998 and '99 Masters as an amateur. 'The coolest thing was waking up in the Crow's Nest. You walk down these ladder-like stairs. You exit from what appears to be a phone booth out into the main dining room, and people go, 'Where did he come from?' And then you see this magnificent view of the big oak tree and the putting green and the 18th green.'
 
The amateur experience at the Masters remains entrenched despite golf's shift of power almost entirely to the professional game during the past several decades, a trend reflected in the number of amateur invitees-from a high of 26 in 1966 to three this year.
 
But no matter the number of amateurs in the field, there has been one constant: None has won the Masters. A few have come close, and here are the 10 best amateur performances in tournament history.
 
1. Ken Venturi - 1956
For three rounds, 24-year-old Ken Venturi simply outclassed Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer to hold a four-shot advantage. Heading into the final 18, the improbable seemed inevitable: An amateur was going to win the Masters.
 
'All I had to do was the same thing I had been doing all week long,' Venturi explained in his autobiography.
 
He couldn't. Although he played well from tee to green, hitting 15 greens on a windy day in which there were only two rounds under par and the low score was 71, Venturi three-putted six times. He still had a four-shot lead with nine holes remaining, but made bogeys on five of the next six holes and shot 80. Jackie Burke, who started the round eight shots behind, donned the green jacket.
 
'Did I choke?' Venturi wrote. 'If you go by my score, you can make that argument. I choose to look at it differently.'
 

2. Billy Joe Patton - 1954
A decade after World War II, another Patton was marching toward victory. After matching his age by shooting 32 on the front nine of the final round that included an ace on the 6th hole, Billy Joe Patton held a one-shot lead as he stood in the 13th fairway, debating whether to go for the green or lay up on the par 5.
 
If the aggressive play was a long shot, Patton himself was a longer one. The lumber salesman from Morganton, North Carolina, was playing his first Masters, having qualified for being an alternate on the 1953 Walker Cup team. (Patton went on to play in five Walker Cups.)
 
'What the hell,' he said, reaching for a 3-wood. 'I didn't get where I've got by playing safe.' His second shot found the tributary of Rae's Creek guarding the 13th green; Patton made double bogey and he finished one shot out of a playoff between Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, won by Snead.
 
Patton played in 12 more Masters, finishing in the top 10 in 1958 and '59.
 

3. Charles Coe - 1961
While most of the attention was on another amateur, long-hitting Jack Nicklaus, it was Charlie Coe who nearly stole the tournament from Gary Player, who shot 74 in the final round. The 37-year-old Coe, a WWII pilot who had won the 1949 and 1958 U.S. Amateurs, shot 69 to tie for second with Arnold Palmer, who infamously made double bogey on the final hole.
 
Coe, who was an Augusta National member, is the Masters' most decorated amateur: He played in 19 tournaments, finishing in the top 10 three times and in the top 25 nine times.
 

4. E. Harvie Ward Jr. - 1957
The name at the top of the leader board Sunday morning was no great surprise: Sam Snead. The name right under it, Harvie Ward, was. The 30-year-old car salesman from San Francisco and the winner of back-to-back U.S. Amateurs in 1955 and '56 trailed by a single shot.
 
Neither Ward nor Snead played particularly well, and Doug Ford blew by both of them with a final-round 66. Afterward, Ward was banned from competitive golf for a year after it was ruled that he had violated his amateur status for accepting expense money from his car dealership.
 

5. Frank Stranahan - 1947
Although he never seriously threatened to win the tournament, 24-year-old Frank Stranahan shot a final-round 68, the lowest score of the day, to tie Byron Nelson for second, two strokes behind Jimmy Demaret. It was the highest finish by an amateur to date.
 
Unfortunately, Stranahan is remembered more for what happened the following year, when his invitation was revoked for allegedly hitting more than one ball into the greens during a practice round.
 
The son of the founder of the spark plug manufacturing company Champion, Stranahan played in 11 more Masters. He also won two British Amateurs and tied for second behind Ben Hogan in the historic 1953 British Open before turning pro in 1954.
 

6. Ryan Moore - 2005
In 2004 Ryan Moore had the greatest season in modern amateur golf, winning the NCAA Championship, U.S. Amateur Public Links, Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur, and helping the U.S. win the World Amateur Team Championship while earning low individual honors-an unprecedented sweep.
 
So expectations for the 22-year-old Moore at the Masters were higher than for most amateurs. Still, few expected him to play as well as he did, finishing in a tie for 13th. 'I was just having a blast out there,' Moore, now on the PGA Tour, recalls of that week. 'It was an incredible experience.'
 

7. Jack Nicklaus - 1961
Jack Nicklaus again displayed his awesome potential, 10 months after finishing second in the 1960 U.S. Open, a tournament that his final-36-hole playing partner Ben Hogan said Nicklaus 'should have won by 10 shots.'
 
In his final Masters as an amateur, the 21-year-old Nicklaus finished tied for seventh, his second consecutive top-10 showing in a major. Nicklaus won the first of his record six green jackets two years later.
 

8. Robert Tyre Jones Jr. - 1934
The performance was far from vintage Bobby Jones: rounds of 76, 74, 72 and 72, tied for 13th. No matter. Given his responsibilities as the host in the inaugural event and his four-year absence from competition since capturing the Grand Slam, the 32-year-old Jones' performance still ranks as one of the finest showings by an amateur on this grand stage.
 
Jones competed in 11 more Masters but never eclipsed his 1934 finish.
 

9. Richard Chapman - 1954
Dick Chapman's bid to make history was not nearly as dramatic as the one put together by Billy Joe Patton that year. A closing 70 sent 43-year-old Chapman into 11th place, six strokes behind Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. It was his best finish in 19 starts, tied with Charlie Coe for the most among amateurs, spanning from 1939 to 1962.
 
Chapman, a major in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, finished in the top 20 four times at the Masters and also won the U.S. and British Amateurs, as well as the North and South Amateur.
 

10. Matt Kuchar - 1998
After a rather ordinary first 36 holes (72-76), Matt Kuchar shot 68 in the third round. On that magical Saturday, Kuchar's infectious joy at shining during his first Masters radiated from the smile that seemed to be fixed permanently on his face. Kuchar, 19, closed with a 72 on Sunday, finishing in a tie for 21st, which earned him a return invitation the following year, the first amateur to do so since Sam Randolph in 1985. Two months later, he tied for 14th at the U.S. Open, the best showing by an amateur since 1971.
 
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    Snedeker still in front on Day 3 of suspended Wyndham

    By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 11:21 pm

    GREENSBORO, N.C. - Brandt Snedeker held a three-stroke lead Saturday in the Wyndham Championship when the third round was suspended because of severe weather.

    Snedeker was 16 under for the tournament with 11 holes left in the round at the final event of the PGA Tour's regular season.

    Brian Gay was 13 under through 12 holes, and Trey Mullinax, Keith Mitchell, C.T. Pan and D.A. Points were another stroke back at varying stages of their rounds.

    Thirty players were still on the course when play was halted during the mid-afternoon with thunder booming and a threat of lightning. After a 3-hour, 23-minute delay, organizers chose to hold things up overnight and resume the round at 8 a.m. Sunday.

    When things resume, Snedeker - who opened with a 59 to become the first Tour player this year and just the 10th ever to break 60 - will look to keep himself in position to contend for his ninth victory on Tour and his first since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.


    Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

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    The 2012 FedEx Cup champion won the tournament in 2007, the year before it moved across town to par-70 Sedgefield Country Club.

    Snedeker's final 11 holes of the round could wind up being telling: In seven of the 10 previous years since the tournament's move to this course, the third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win.

    And every leader who finished the third round here at 16 under or better has wound up winning, including Henrik Stenson (16 under) last year and Si Woo Kim (18 under) in 2016.

    Snedeker started the day off strong, rolling in a 60-foot chip for birdie on the par-4 second hole, then pushed his lead to three strokes with a birdie on No. 5 that moved him to 16 under. But after he sank a short par putt on the seventh, thunder boomed and the horn sounded to stop play.

    Gay was 12 holes into a second consecutive strong round when the delay struck. After shooting a 63 in the second round, he had four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. He placed his 200-yard second shot 10 feet from the flagstick and sank the putt.

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    Lexi charges with 64 despite another penalty

    By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    Lexi Thompson ran into another awkward rules issue while making a bold charge at the leaders Saturday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

    She hit a speed bump at Brickyard Crossing Golf Course when she was assessed a penalty for violating a preferred-lies local rule.

    Five shots off the lead at day’s start, Thompson birdied six of the first nine holes, making the turn in 30 to move two off the lead, but that’s where she got her second education this season on the implementation of local rules.

    At the 10th tee, Thompson blew her tee shot right, into the sixth fairway. With preferred lies in effect, Thompson picked up her ball, cleaned it and replaced it within a club length before preparing to hit her second shot at the par 5.

    According to Kay Cockerill, reporting for Golf Channel’s early live streaming coverage, LPGA rules official Marty Robinson saw Thompson pick up her ball and intervened. He informed her she was in violation of the preferred lies rule, that she was allowed to lift, clean and place only when in the fairway of the hole she was currently playing. She was assessed a one-shot penalty and returned her ball to its original spot, with Robinson’s help. The local rule was distributed to players earlier in the week.

    Cockerill said Thompson handled the penalty well, shaking her head when realizing her mistake, and chuckling at her gaffe. She then crushed a fairway wood, from 215 yards, up onto the green. She two-putted from 50 feet and walked away with a par.


    Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


    “Thankfully, Marty intervened before she hit her next shot,” Cockerill reported. “Otherwise, she would have been hitting from the wrong spot, and it would have been a two-shot penalty. So, in a sense, it saved her a shot.”

    Thompson is making a return to golf this week after taking a month-long “mental break.” A year ago, she endured heartache on and off the golf course, with her competitive frustration having much to do with being hit with a controversial four-shot penalty in the final round of the ANA Inspiration. She appeared to be running away with a victory there but ended up losing in a playoff.

    Earlier this year, Thompson got another education in local rules. She was penalized in the second round at the Honda Thailand after hitting her ball next to an advertising sign. She moved the sign, believing it was a moveable object, but the local rules sheet that week identified signs on the course as temporary immovable obstructions. She was penalized two shots.

    In her pretournament news conference this week, Thompson shared how difficult the ANA controversy, her mother’s fight with cancer and the death of a grandmother was on her emotionally. She also was candid about the challenge of growing up as a prodigy and feeling the need to build a life about more than golf.

    Saturday’s penalty didn’t slow Thompson for long.

    She made back-to-back birdies at the 13th and 14th holes to post a 64, giving her a Sunday chance to win in her return.

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    U.S. Amateur final comes down to Devon vs. Goliath

    By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

    PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – On his family’s happiest day in years, Nick Bling stood off to the side of the 18th green, trying to collect himself.

    His oldest son, Devon, had just advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, and he surely knew that, at some point, the question was coming. Of the many members in the family’s boisterous cheering section that came here to Pebble Beach – a clan that includes Nick’s brothers and sisters, his in-laws and the teaching professionals of his hometown club – one person was conspicuously absent.

    So for 22 seconds, Nick couldn’t utter a word.

    “She’s watching,” he said, finally, wiping under his sunglasses.

    His wife, Sara, died in February 2013 after suffering a sudden blood clot that went to her brain. She was only 45, the mother of two young boys.

    The news took everyone by surprise – that day Nick and Devon were together at a junior tournament in southwest California, while Sara was at home with her youngest son, Dillon.

    “That was bad. Unexpected,” said Dillon, now 16. “I don’t even want to think about that. That was a rough year.”

    Sara was a fixture at all of the boys’ junior tournaments. She organized their schedules, packed their lunches and frequently shuttled them to and from China Lake, the only course in their small hometown of Ridgecrest, about two hours north of Los Angeles, where they’ve lived since 1990.

    An engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station, Nick picked up the game at age 27, and though he had no formal training (at his best he was a high-80s shooter), he was the boys’ primary swing coach until high school, when Devon was passed off to PGA instructor Chris Mason.

    “Devon has world-class raw talent, and there’s a lot of things you can’t teach, and he’s got a lot of that,” said UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin. “But his dad looked at the game very analytically. He was able to break down the golf swing from a technical standpoint, and I think that has helped him. His dad is a brilliant man.”

    Devon watched his dad hit balls in the garage and, at 18 months, began taking full swings with a plastic club, whacking shots against the back of the couch. Once his son was bigger, Nick put down a mat and built a hole in the dirt on the family’s property.


    U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


    Once it was time for the next step, there was only one option in town. China Lake is more than 300 miles from Pebble Beach, but in many ways they’re worlds apart. The course is dead in the winter, picked over by the birds in the spring and baked out in the summer, with 110-degree temperatures and winds that occasionally gust to 60 mph. Devon still blossomed into a well-known prospect.

    “Growing up in Ridgecrest,” Devon said, “some could say that it’s a disadvantage. But I could use the course and take a shag bag and go out and practice. So I used it to my advantage, and if it weren’t for that golf course, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

    Nor would he be here without the support of his family.

    Asked how they survived the tragedy of losing Sara so suddenly, Nick Bling said: “Brothers. Kids. Friends. Half of Ridgecrest. The town. They all came together. What do they say, that it takes a village to raise a boy? It did. Two boys.”

    Devon carried a 4.2 GPA in high school and played well enough to draw interest from UCLA. He played on the team last season as a freshman, winning a tournament and posting three other top-10s. The consistency in his game has been lacking, but the time spent around the Bruins’ coaches is starting to pay off, as he’s developed into more than just a swashbuckling power hitter. He has refined his aggression, though he’s offered more than a few reminders of his firepower. Last fall, the team held a Red Tee Challenge at TPC Valencia, where they all teed off from the red markers. Bling shot 28 on the back nine.

    In addition to his awesome game, Larkin said that Bling was one of the team’s most mature players – even after arriving on campus as a 17-year-old freshman.

    “I think his mannerisms and his charisma really come from his mom,” Larkin said. “It was a super hard time in his life, but I think it helped him grow and mature at an early age. He’s such a good big brother, and he took a lot of that responsibility.

    “There’s a blessing in everything that happens, and I think it made him grow a little young. I think he’s the man he is today because of her.”

    In his player profile, Bling wrote that his mom always wanted him to play in USGA championships, because of their prestige, and she would have loved to watch him maneuver his way through his first U.S. Amateur appearance.

    After earning the No. 41 seed in stroke play, Bling knocked off two of the top amateurs in the country (Shintaro Ban and Noah Goodwin), edged one of the nation’s most sought-after prospects (Davis Riley) and on Saturday traded birdies with Pacific Coast Amateur champion Isaiah Salinda.

    In one of the most well-played matches of the week, Bling made six birdies in a seven-hole span around the turn and shot the stroke-play equivalent of a 65 to Salinda’s 66.

    The match came down to 18, where Bling bludgeoned a drive over the tree in the middle of the fairway, knocked it on the green in two shots and forced Salinda to make birdie from the greenside bunker, which he couldn’t.

    Bling was a 1-up winner, clinching his spot in the finals (and the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open), and setting off a raucous celebration behind the rope line.

    “He played as good as I’ve ever seen,” Larkin said. “The talent has always been there, and I’m glad it’s coming out this week.”

    Another difficult opponent awaits in the championship match. It’s a mismatch on paper, a 36-hole final between Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, ranked fifth in the world, and the No. 302-ranked Bling. Hovland had won each of his previous two matches by a 7-and-6 margin – the first time that’s happened since 1978 – and then dropped eight birdies on Cole Hammer on Saturday afternoon.

    But he’s likely never faced a player with Bling’s resolve – or a cheering section as supportive as his family’s.

    “This means a lot to us,” Dillon said. “It was finally Devon’s time, and I knew one day it’d come down to the finals. He’s been playing awesome. Mom is probably really happy right now.”

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    Report: Fan hit by broken club at Web.com event

    By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 9:12 pm

    A fan was hit by a broken club and required stiches Friday at the Web.com Tour's WinCo Foods Portland Open.

    According to ESPN.com, Kevin Stadler slammed his club in frustration causing his clubhead to break and it struck a fan in the head.

    The fan required six stiches and was released from the hospital.

    Orlando Pope, a Web.com Tour rules official, spoke with ESPN.com:

    "It was a very freakish accident. Kevin is devastated. He had trouble trying to finish the round. He was quite worried and felt so bad.''

    Former PGA champion Shaun Micheel was in Stadler's group and posted this message on Facebook:

    "One of my playing partners played a poor shot with a 7 iron on the par 3 fifteenth hole this morning. In a fit of anger he slammed his club against the ground and the side of his foot which caused the club to break about 6” from the bottom. I had my head down but the clubhead flew behind me and hit a spectator to my right. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much blood. We stayed with him for about 15 minutes before the EMT’s arrived. The last I heard was that he had a possible skull fracture but that he was doing ok otherwise. [Stadler] was absolutely shattered and we did our best to keep his spirits up. This was not done on purpose and we were astounded at the way the club was directed but it shows you just how dangerous it is to throw or break clubs. Each of us in the group learned something today!"