BANDON, Ore. – Harrison Ott’s teammates call him “Cheeks” because he lacks a little cushion … well, you get the idea.
He may leave Bandon Dunes this week with another nickname: “The Silent Assassin.”
There’s not a whole lotta flash in Ott’s game – much unlike his All-American teammate at Vanderbilt, John Augenstein, who is literally nicknamed “Flash.” But as Ott proved in Thursday morning’s 19-hole victory over medalist Wilson Furr in the Round of 32 at the U.S. Amateur, he knows how to execute.
“I’m not going to hit it high and far like John, but I’m going to hit it in front of me, make some putts, and have that to rely on,” Ott said. “I’m going to play my game and just put my good golf out there and see if it stacks up.”
It’s been a formula that has worked for Ott, who found himself 1 down with five holes to play against Furr, the Alabama senior who won three of the first four holes on the back nine. Ott stayed within himself and hung around, not missing a green and finding all but one fairway down the stretch. His lag putt from 40 feet at the penultimate hole was especially crucial, as it set up his birdie at the par-5 finisher, where he knocked a 3-wood from a thick lie to just in front of the green, to force extra holes.
And when the aggressive Furr, who two days ago made 11 birdies in one round, spun his ball off the front of the green on the first playoff hole, the par-4 first, and left himself a nearly impossible up-and-down to save par, Ott played it safe, choosing a line about 20 feet right of the flag, and ended up winning with a conceded tap-in for par.
“I thought I had won the match on a shot and I ended up losing it on it,” Furr said, “so I don't even know what to say.”
When Ott walked off the green following the victory, he said to his caddie: “That’s why we play to my game.”
He didn’t always, though. When he arrived in Nashville, Ott found himself fighting for the last lineup spot behind the likes of Augenstein, Will Gordon, and Theo Humphrey. The Commodores play a lot of match play back home at Legends Club, and Ott remembers countless times where he and his fiery teammates have walked off the final green barely shaking hands.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re only playing nine holes,” Ott said, “we’re upset if the other person beats us.”
One time his sophomore year, Gordon stuffed his second shot at Legends’ final hole and made eagle to complete a stunning comeback against Ott and Augenstein. They were pissed for days.
In many ways, Ott and Augenstein are a lot alike. They love fishing and basketball, have similar music tastes and are both fierce competitors. But Augenstein, a stout match-play player in his own right, finds success playing his opponents, trying to intimidate them with his macho personality.
“My freshman and sophomore year, I was like, “I want to play my match play like John, I want to be fiery, I want to play the guy vs. playing the course,” Ott said. “That just never worked for me.”
Ott’s first match, freshman year at the East Lake Cup, he lost to Oregon’s Norman Xiong, 6 and 4. And before this week, his match-play record since starting college was 2-5-3, even though two years ago at the U.S. Amateur, he beat world No. 1 Justin Suh and was the only player who led against eventual champion Viktor Hovland in their second-round match.
“Match play is about figuring out who you are, and you can get wrapped up in watching Gordo do this and John do that, and you can kind of forget who you are,” Vanderbilt head coach Scott Limbaugh said. “I think Harry now understands that we he’s got is really good.”
Ott has recently played much better than his No. 322 position in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, putting together three straight top-10s last spring before the season was canceled and two weeks ago reaching match play at the Western Amateur, where he gave world No. 2 Ricky Castillo everything he could handle.
Now, he’s the last Commodore standing at the U.S. Amateur – Augenstein was upset in the first round – and just four wins away from lifting the Havemeyer. He’ll face another tough opponent, too, in Thursday afternoon’s Round of 16: Stewart Hagestad, a two-time Walker Cupper.
This time, though, the TV cameras will be there.
Not that it matters. Each morning this week, Limbaugh has texted Ott a little reminder: Lock in on each shot. And since match play has started, Ott has done just that. He’s focused solely on his game, quietly going about his business and knowing that his best can beat anyone.
No flash necessary.