By Ron Balicki, Golfweek.com
RUMFORD, R.I. – Justin Shin is a firm believer in the old saying, “Never give up.” In the final round in the 51st Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett Country Club on June 23, he lived it.
Shin charged from behind to score the biggest victory of his college and amateur career. After a 4-under 65, the lowest score of the final round, Shin made a birdie and two pars in a three-hole aggregate playoff against Jordan Russell, a recent Texas A&M graduate.
Shin, a senior at New Mexico State, finished 72 holes at 7-under 269 to tie Russell, the leader after each of the first three rounds. Russell closed with an even-par 69, allowing Shin to tighten the gap.
This year marks the first time in tournament history that a three-hole aggregate playoff was used to decide the winner. It also was the first playoff since 2004, when Anthony Kim beat Roy Moon on the fifth extra hole.
“This is such a great feeling,” Shin said shortly after the playoff. “This is one of the best tournaments in the world, so to win it is beyond words for me.”
Brandon Hagy, a senior at California, and Michael Hebert, a senior at Auburn, tied for third, four shots back, at 3-under 273. Hagy closed with a 67 and Hebert a 71.
Another shot back were Zac Blair (67), Rick Lamb (69), Bobby Wyatt (69), Bruce Woodall (66) and Tim Jackson (72). Jackson, at age 53 the oldest player in the field, earned the Joseph J. Sprague Sr. Award for finishing as the low mid-amateur.
Russell, at 7 under, held a two-shot lead over Jackson and Hebert entering the final round. Shin was four shots back.
“When I started out (last round) I didn’t think about the win,” said Shin, who was a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection this season. “My goal was to go out and make some birdies and shoot under par.”
Shin said he never really looked at where he stood during the round, even after sinking a left-to-right 12-footer for birdie on the 18th hole.
“When I finished 18, I thought (Russell) had a three-shot lead,” Shin said. “I was really surprised when my caddie told me I was only one behind.”
When Russell, playing one group back, missed to the left of the 18th green, chipped to within 3 feet, then missed the par putt, it left the two deadlocked.
At the first playoff hole, the par-4 first, Shin knocked his 145-yard approach shot to 4 feet and made the birdie putt while Russell, still emotionally shaken, made bogey. He made another bogey at the second playoff hole, the par-3 eighth, while Shin made par to lead by three. Both parred the final hole, the par-4 ninth.
“I just kind of gave it away,” Russell said. “I had a tough back side. I had a lot of putts that didn’t drop, and that’s about it.
“He birdied 18 and I bogeyed, so he had all the momentum going into the playoff,” said Russell, a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Amateur. “Then he birdied No. 1 (in the playoff) and I bogeyed, and that was pretty much it.”
Midway through the final round, it appeared as if Russell were on his way to a wire-to-wire victory. When he birdied holes 6, 7, 8 and 10, he moved to 10 under and held a five-stroke lead over Shin.
Russell made bogey at 11 as Shin made birdie at 12 to cut the difference to three. Shin made birdie at 14 but bogey at 15 to remain three back. When Russell missed his 4-foot par putt at 16, the margin dropped to two. That made the par-4 18th hole crucial.
“I know how (Russell) is feeling, and I feel sorry for him,” said Shin, who was born in South Korea and moved to British Columbia with his family six years ago. “At the (Western Athletic Conference Championship), I led just about all the way, but then ended up losing in a playoff. It’s tough.
“But what a great win for me,” said Shin, whose last victory came some four years ago in a junior event in California. “I’ve been waiting a long time for a win, but never expected it to come in this tournament. This is by far the biggest tournament for me to win. And to have my name up there with all those great past winners is really, really special.”