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Western Amateur: Australia's LaCassie is the Champion

BENTON HARBOR, MI (August 6, 2006)--Bronson LaCassie held on to defeat Spain’s Pablo Martin on Sunday to claim the 2006 Western Amateur title and become the first Australian in the tournament’s 104-year history to have his name engraved on the George R. Thorne Championship Trophy.

LaCassie, 23, of Brisbane, Australia, joins a list of golf’s greats who have won the prestigious national title, including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus. But the names of his fellow countrymen absent from the trophy give LaCassie confidence he can live his dream of success as a professional golfer.

Australians Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Aaron Baddeley and Mathew Goggin, who all have prospered as professionals, are among the Australians who reached the Sweet 16 at the Western Amateur at Point O’Woods G. & C.C. in Benton Harbor, yet were unable to claim the championship.

“It definitely makes you believe you can go on and do what they’ve done. It is really special,” said LaCassie, the Western Amateur’s first international champion since Michael Kirk, of Johannesburg, South Africa, won in 2000, and only the third foreign champion in history. Jim Nelford, of Canada, won in 1977. “Definitely winning a trophy Tiger’s won feels special and is something I’ll never forget. Individually, it’s the biggest thing that’s happened to me in my career.”

LaCassie, 23, a junior at the University of Minnesota, took command of the match on the back nine after he and Martin, 20, of Malaga, Spain, made the turn all square. LaCassie won the par 4, 10th with a 12-foot birdie putt, then carded back-to-back birdies on the par 5, 13th and par 4, 14th to take a 3-up lead. Martin answered by winning the par 5, 15th, with a conceded eagle putt, and the par 4, 16th, also with a conceded birdie putt, after LaCassie missed the greens on both of his approaches.

Undaunted, LaCassie answered on the 208-yard, par 3, 17th, hitting a 5-iron to eight feet below the cup and curling the putt in for a birdie and the 2 and 1 victory.

“I felt on 15 I got a little unlucky with a flier over the green, and on the 16th I had an awkward yardage,” said LaCassie.

Not much else went wrong for LaCassie. “I really felt confident out there,” he said. “I never got nervous. I pretty much knew where all my shots were going to go.”

LaCassie, who was beaten by Martin by four strokes when they were paired in the third round of this year’s NCAA championship, knew he would have to play his best. “He’s a great player. He’s won a lot of college events and is very experienced,” LaCassie said. “I knew he was going to be tough to beat.”

Martin, a first-team All-American and a member of Oklahoma State’s 2006 NCAA Championship team, credited LaCassie’s clutch putting as the difference in the match. “I had my chances,” Martin said. “You can always hit it closer and make more putts. I had birdie chances. He just played better than me.”

Forced to withdraw from his first Western Amateur a year ago due to muscle soreness in his arms after being introduced to water-skiing a couple of days before the competition, Martin made the most of his second chance. “It was a great week … a fun week,” he said. “It’s awesome to be at a tournament like this. It’s as good as it gets.”

With three of the final four hailing from outside the United States, the internationals were heavy favorites to prevail. “Golf’s getting more and more popular everywhere in the world,” said LaCassie, who chose to attend college in the United States so he could compete in the summer amateur circuit. “The ones you see here (at the Western Amateur) are the best amateurs in the world. They want to come and play here.”

Although LaCassie intends to turn professional after he finishes school next year – he has just one year of eligibility remaining – he indicated the timing “depends on what happens. If I’m still an amateur, I’ll definitely be back next year,” he said.

Morning Semifinals

In the morning semifinals, Martin defeated the lone semifinalist from the United States, Scott Pieri, 38, of Fort Wayne, Ind., 5 and 3, and LaCassie edged Dawie Van Der Walt, 23, of Cape Town, South Africa, 3 and 1.

Martin moved in front of Pieri early with a birdie on the par 5, 525-yard second, then methodically built the lead to 5 up through 12 en route to the win. Martin finally closed the door with an eagle on the par 5, 15th after hitting a 197-yard 6-iron eight feet from the hole and making the putt.

“It was a good match,” Martin said. “He’s a great guy.”

“I felt great today,” said Pieri, a former PGA professional who regained his amateur status in March. “I was just a little bit off. I didn’t play my best, and I got beat.”

Despite the loss, Pieri embraced the experience. “This was the experience of a lifetime to me,” said Pieri, who played as a professional in thee PGA TOUR tournaments in 1997. “I always felt that nothing would top my PGA TOUR events, but this was the best week I’ve ever had in golf.”

On Saturday, Pieri defeated two of Martin’s teammates on the OSU Cowboys’ national title team, 2006 NCAA champion Jonathan Moore and Tyler Leon. On Sunday, Martin got revenge. “I certainly was the underdog, playing three college All-Americans at age 38,” Pieri offered.

In the second semifinal, Van Der Walt took a 2-up lead after LaCassie bogeyed the short, par 4 eighth. But LaCassie won the par 3, 11th, then pulled all square with an eagle on the 550-yard, par 5, 13th. He birdied the par 4, 14th to take his first lead in the match.

Van Der Walt, a senior at Lamar University, gave LaCassie a nod for playing the better round in their match. “Bronson was playing good,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a tough match. He made a good putt on nine not to go 3 down, and made that eagle on 13.”

Although he plans to turn pro in 2007, Van Der Walt left the door open for a return appearance at the Western Amateur. “I have one more year in school, then I’ll turn pro next summer. Maybe I’ll come back next year,” he said.

Final Four Player Highlights

Bronson LaCassie
Bronson LaCassie, 23, Brisbane, Australia. Junior, University of Minnesota. Finished tied for sixth at the 2006 NCAA Championship, leading Minnesota to a third-place finish. Third team All-American in 2005 and honorable-mention All-American in 2004 and 2006. First team All-Big Ten three straight years, 2004-2006. Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2004. Tied for fifth at 2004 Big Ten Championship and fourth at the 2006 Big Ten Championship. 2004 Ping NCAA All-Midwest Region Team. Runner-up in the 2003 Queensland Amateur Medal Championship. Tied for third in the New Zealand U-23 team event. Runner-up in the 2003 Tasmanian Open. Playing in his third Western Amateur. Made the Sweet 16 in 2004 (lost first-round match).

Pablo Martin
Pablo Martin, 20, Malaga, Spain. Junior, Oklahoma State University. Helped lead Oklahoma State to 2006 NCAA title with fifth place individual finish. First team All-American in 2005 and 2006. Golfweek’s Collegiate Player of the Year in 2006. 2006 Big 12 Player of the Year. Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2005, helping lead OSU to the Big 12 title. Champion, 2005 Porter Cup. Also won the 2005 Preview Collegiate and the 2004 Isleworth Intercollegiate. Member of the 2005 and 2006 European Palmer Cup team. Playing in his second Western Amateur.

Scott Pieri
Scott Pieri, 38, Fort Wayne, Indiana. 1990 graduate, Ball State University. Was an Academic All-American at Ball State University in 1990. Won the 2003 Indiana CPC Championship, the 2003 Indiana State Pro-Am and the 2001 Indiana PGA Northern. Played in the 1997 Western Open, 1997 Buick Open and 1997 Greater Milwaukee Open on the PGA TOUR. Playing in his first Western Amateur.

Dawie Van Der Walt
Dawie Van Der Walt, 23, Cape Town, South Africa. Senior, Lamar University. Native of Cape Town, South Africa. Second team All-American in 2006. Placed fourth in the 2006 NCAA Championship, leading Lamar to a ninth place finish. Third, 2006 NCAA Central Regional. Won the 2005 Del Walker Intercollegiate. Posted eight top-10 finishes in 2005-06 season. Reached quarterfinals in the 2005 U.S. Amateur. Playing in his first Western Amateur. Fourth in Golfweek Amateur Rankings.

NOTE: Story courtesy Western Golf Association.
ABOUT THE Western Amateur (Match Play)

Invitational event, known to many as the 'Masters of Amateur Golf.' Quite probably the hardest amateur tournament to win.

156 invited players come from across the globe to play one of the toughest formats in amateur golf. The tournament starts with 18 holes of stroke play on Tuesday and Wednesday after which the field is cut to the low 44 scores and ties. Thursday it's a long day of 36 holes of stroke play to determine the “Sweet Sixteen” who compete at Match Play on Friday and Saturday (two matches each day if you're going to the finals) to decide the champion.

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