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The Spirit Amateur: U.S. Comeback falls short

TRINITY, Texas, (Oct. 27, 2007)-- Those famous English stiff upper lips came through in the end.

The Americans did all they could to finish off an epic comeback at The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship with an 11-under 133 combined best-ball score to finish at 30-under 546, but England successfully defended their gold medal at 32-under.

AJGA All-American Peter Uihlein made a two-foot birdie putt on No. 14 to put the United States in the lead at 28-under. But the incredible pair of Gary Boyd and Daniel Willett carded six birdies on the back nine and Elizabeth Bennett made a critical birdie on the par-5 17th to help England finish in first at 32-under.

United States and Korea tied for the silver medal two shots back at the championship, held at Whispering Pines Golf Club. France picked up nine shots to win the bronze medal at 22-under.

“It was nail-biting stuff,” said England captain David Basham. “It could’ve gone either way right up until 18.”

For the second consecutive day the United States had the day’s low round. On Friday they rode NCAA All-Americans Tiffany Joh and Amanda Blumenherst’s eight birdies to a 13-under round that vaulted the red, white, and blue into contention. On Saturday it was the American men’s turn to blaze a birdie trail. 2007 Junior Amateur champion Cory Whitsett and No. 1-ranked Peter Uihlein were 5-under after nine holes, while Boyd and Willett were only 1-under.

“Today we finally played the way we should,” Uihlein said.

Uihlein hadn’t really clicked the whole tournament until the back nine on Saturday. Then he showed why he’s a two-time AJGA Player of the Year. He had four birdies in a five-hole stretch from holes 13 to 17 to give the United States a narrow lead.

Bennett and partner Naomi Edwards were playing in the group behind the American men and knew that they were rocketing up the leaderboard.

“There were a lot of claps,” Bennett said. “I saw their name on the scoreboard going (lower and lower). I would look at our guys and see that they were still 1-under. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’”

Boyd and Willett turned it around in a big way. Willett birdied holes 10, 11, and 12, while Boyd birdied the difficult back-to-back par 3s at 15 and 16 and also the par 5 17th.

“We just stayed patient,” Willett said. “We knew we were hitting it pretty good.”

The United States’ chances would have been better had the men had more help from Joh and Blumenherst. The two agonized over their lack of success on the greens after finishing at 1-under on the day with three bogeys.

“It’s a deep, deep burn,” said the affable Joh. “‘T-Joh’ did not play like a champion. Today I went off into the woods, built a tree-house, and tried to start a tribe.”

“It was painful,” Blumenherst added. “There were so many putts that could’ve dropped. For myself, I hit the ball so much better than I did yesterday and still couldn’t do anything with it.”

One thing that the American girls did do well was bounce back from their bogeys with birdies. After bogeying the difficult par 3 16th, Blumenherst two-putted for a birdie at the par 5 17th. That got the Americans 29-under, tied with England.

“I knew the American girls had birdied 17 because I heard the roar,” Bennett said. “I knew that we had to keep up with them.”

Bennett chipped to four feet and sank the putt, which gave Boyd and Willett the cushion to play for bogey on the treacherous closing par 4, which has a false front that slopes tremendously into the water. Willett laid up, hit the green, and coolly two-putted for bogey.

With the win England became the first country to defend its gold medal at The Spirit, and the first to win multiple times. They are also the first country to win whose women did not win the women’s team medal. Boyd and Willett also won the men’s team gold at 27-under, while Korea won the women’s team medal at 13-under. Gold medals are given out to who makes the most birdies and eagles, which Korea’s Soo-Jin Yang and Willett captured. Afterwards, Basham couldn’t have been prouder of his team.

“They were nervous about having to defend their title,” Basham said. “They rose to the occasion.”

View results for The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship

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