PINEHURST, N.C. – Order has been restored at the 119th U.S. Amateur.
Gone is the high school junior who wasn’t even listed in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Sent packing is the little-known Sam Houston State player who was so thrilled to make it this far that, after being ousted Saturday night, he and his family grabbed a few clubs and a bag of beers and headed out to Pinehurst’s par-3 course.
No, the only ones left here are two seniors who have loads of match-play experience and are bona fide top-25 college players.
Who could have possibly seen that coming?
Andy Ogletree, it turns out, because after the Round of 16, the Georgia Tech standout studied the match-play bracket and saw no other possible outcome to the week. He’d face Vanderbilt’s John Augenstein in the 36-hole championship match.
“I thought we were the best two players left with the most experience,” he said.
Cohen Trolio, the teenager playing in his first individual amateur tournament, and William Holcomb V, the duck hunter from Crockett, Texas, were interesting stories, no doubt, but also the longest of long shots. Even Holcomb seemed shocked that he was still alive. “Once you get down to these guys,” he said, “these are men. We’ve been playing boys the last few rounds.”
And Augenstein and Ogletree know how to play grown-man golf.
Augenstein, 21, came to Pinehurst with two goals: make the Walker Cup team and win the U.S. Amateur. In that order. Though he’s been a match-play savant the past few years, his spot on the American team was imperiled by a sluggish summer in which he failed to record a top-30 finish. That all changed this week, when he took down some of the biggest names in amateur golf (including top-10 talents Akshay Bhatia and Ricky Castillo) and advanced to the finals after a 3-and-2 win over Holcomb. He’s now a lock for the U.S. team, unless the USGA committee has no interest in winning. By reaching the championship, Augenstein improved his singles record to a mind-boggling 17-3-1 since spring 2017.
“He’s just one of those guys that has a bone in him,” Holcomb said.
Ogletree, 21, is no pushover either, at least not since his tough-love lunch with Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler last fall. It was during that meeting that one of college golf’s most powerful players finally resolved to improve his short game.
“The way you see him drive the ball and the iron shots he hits, he’s been doing that since he was 15,” Heppler said. “But he was taking a knife to a gunfight around the greens and bunkers.”
Ogletree learned a few new techniques around the greens, received a putting tip from teammate Noah Norton and transformed his game. Last spring he ripped off six consecutive top-15 finishes, carrying that momentum into the summer when he broke through to win the Monroe Amateur.
“Now, he’s got a world-class amateur game,” Heppler said.
And that’s no small achievement after growing up in Little Rock, Mississippi, a no-stoplight town whose main attraction might be the gas station with a seafood buffet on Friday nights. (“Food’s incredible,” Ogletree said, without a hint of sarcasm.) The nearest courses were a half hour away, so he and his family built their own practice facility. Their spacious backyard could accommodate 200-yard shots, and Andy and his two brothers (who later became a high school state-title-winning trio) took turns cutting the grass with their greens mower.
“I can remember countless nights down there putting under the lights,” he said. “I’ll always call that place home.”
The pull of his hometown is still strong. Burnt out this summer, Ogletree pulled out of the Western Amateur to attend the popular Neshoba County Fair, nicknamed “Mississippi’s Giant House Party” with its 700 cabins and 800 campers and carnival rides, bands and greasy food. The fun diversion allowed him to recover and refocus for the U.S. Amateur, which proved beneficial, because Pinehurst No. 2 turned even more fearsome Saturday after another afternoon of baking in 95-degree heat.
Ogletree’s semifinal match against Trolio was ugly, and not just because of the quality of golf. (The two were a combined 17 over par.) Supporters of the 17-year-old Trolio were apparently so boisterous that three members of the gallery were escorted by police off the property. Another fan’s cellphone went off as Ogletree stood over a 4-footer, eliciting a few giggles from the crowd as the Masters theme song played.
“There was about a tenth of the crowd pulling for me,” said Ogletree, still visibly annoyed. “You just have to be your own cheerleader.”
But Ogletree remained steady down the stretch, blistering a drive down the 16th fairway to move 2 up, then closing out the match with a 212-yard missile to 3 feet on 17.
It didn’t take long for the two finalists to realize what they’d accomplished. Both players were now guaranteed starts at the 2020 Masters and U.S. Open; the winner Sunday will receive another sweet perk, playing the first two rounds at Augusta National with defending champion Tiger Woods.
But that’s eight months from now. For the two most proven players left, 36 holes and the most prestigious prize in amateur golf remains. There’s no shortage of motivation.
For Augenstein, it’s pretty simple: “Nobody wants to make it this far and then lose.”