PASADENA, Calif. (August 7, 2013) — One thing is certain: Niall Platt's golf game is well-suited for match play.
The rising Notre Dame senior golfer defeated 16-year-old Sean Crocker 2 up Wednesday to claim the 2013 SCGA Match Play Championship, his second-straight win in the event. But the victory wasn't an easy one, as Crocker and Platt played one of the finest matches in event history, something that was not lost on the young champion.
"I've played a lot of matches, but that was by far the most intense match I've ever been a part of," said Platt. "Crocker played an amazing round, and I'm just really happy I was able to pull it out. Last year's win was great, but this one means even more."
Flirting with a slight advantage throughout most of the round's first nine holes, the drama picked up on the back nine, where Platt and Crocker matched each other birdie for birdie, fist-pump for fist-pump. Entering the 10th hole all square, Platt took a 1 up advantage heading into the 11th hole with a nice birdie on the par-4, 360-yard 10th hole. But Crocker quickly brought himself back into contention with a birdie of his own on the longer 451-yard par 4 11th hole. Crocker, one of the longest hitters in the championship, took advantage of driveable par 4s and 5s all match, returning the battle to all square entering the 12th hole.
That's when the putters caught fire, starting with Platt's. Dropping his tee shot less than 15 feet from the flag on the par 3 12th hole, Platt drained the putt to again take the lead with a birdie. The two would both birdie 13, Platt's third in four holes, before Crocker again leveled the match at 15, taking advantage of a rare bogey by his competitor.
But as it seemed to happen throughout the match, Platt didn't enjoy sitting all square with the young Crocker, quickly regaining the lead with what may have been the putt of the match on the par 3 15th hole, a 20-foot bender that seemed to jar Crocker, who then missed his 10-footer to keep the match even. Platt, who rarely shows much emotion on the golf course, let out a yelp of excitement that was coupled with a hearty fist pump.
But Crocker wasn't finished. Shaking off the misfortune at 15, Crocker entered the 17th hole 1 down, needing at best to halve the hole. A great up and down out of the bunker seemed to seal the deal for Platt, but Crocker kept the excitement going by draining a 20-footer to match Platt's birdie, releasing a fist pump of his own and a large reaction from the moderately-sized crowd.
"You never expect someone to make a putt like that, so it was pretty incredible that he did," said Platt. "That even sent shivers down my spine."The fun would stop there, however, for Crocker, as Platt was the only of the two to drive the ball onto the fairway on 18, setting himself up for what would turn out to be a conceeded eagle for the win. Platt's impressive back nine included one eagle and five birdies.
It was not an easy road to the finals for Platt, who earlier Wednesday morning had to beat 2011 Champion Anton Arboleda just to advance to the final round. Platt, the No. 1 seed, took care of Arboleda 3 and 2. His championship run also included wins over Brian Song, Brett Silvernail of UCSB and two-time SCGA Mid-Amateur Champion Robert Funk.
The win should not be too much of a surprise to fans of amateur golf, as Platt has been playing some of his best golf this summer. Last month, the Santa Barbara native was the early leader at the SCGA Amateur Championship, eventually finishing T3, and he just recently finished in the top 15 at the Pacific Coast Amateur Championship.
The SCGA Match Play Championship, in its sixth year, as now been won six times by a collegiate golfer. Moving away from Sandpiper GC for the first time in tournament history, Platt proved last year's victory was more than just home-course advantage.
Up next on the SCGA championship slate is the Affiliate Team Championship, which begins Aug. 19 at Morongo GC at Tukwet Canyon.