Note: The following article is a long one, but we've broken it down into the following sections: Story of the year, Collegiate, Women, Juniors and Seniors to make it easier for you skip around
Danny Lee is a pretty funny character, but if you told someone at the beginning of 2008 that he’d be the story of the year in amateur golf, they’d be having a laugh at your expense.
Observe his reaction after learning his impressive victory at the U.S. Amateur means a pairing with Tiger Woods at the 2009 U.S. Open.
"Wow, that's a special thing,” he said an hour after unseating Tiger as the youngest-ever Amateur champ. Then a pause. “I'm gonna beat him."
Eruptions of laughter from the media center.
Or his response when asked what his mother had to say to him over the phone from New Zealand after he took the title.
"Oh, you know, I'm very proud of you, blah, blah blah, Mom stuff."
Pretty good stuff on paper (or your computer screen) but it’s much better in person when you take into account Lee’s hodgepodge Korean/Kiwi accent that comes from being born in South Korea and raised in New Zealand. Not to mention his somewhat gangly 18-year-old figure and the wry delivery of those remarks.
Unfortunately for us, Lee won’t be paired with Woods for the 2009 Open. He told the New Zealand Herald that his appearance at this year’s Masters will be his last as an amateur. After that the professional game awaits.
If the 2008 season is any indication, he’s plenty ready for it. Lee entered five professional events and made the cut in four, including a T-20 at the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship and a T-11 at the Australian Masters.
Not bad for a kid whose previous best result was a runner-up finish at the Dogwood Invitational, but quickly found his stride last year with a series of top-10 finishes in amateur majors.
He broke out in a big way when he took medalist honors at one of the nation’s most prestigious amateur events, the Western Amateur then went on to win the whole thing, a rare feat accomplished by such notables as Phil Mickelson, Curtis Strange and Ben Crenshaw.
“This is a huge event,” he said at the time. “It gives me so much confidence. This is the first time I played really well in the United States. It’s special. It’s the biggest win of my life.”
Little did he know that he was destined to cruise through match play portion of the U.S. Amateur, only going to the 17th hole once in the 36-hole final with Drew Kittleson. He was the equivalent of 11-under-par at Pinehurst No. 2 by the time the smoke had cleared.
"It was actually kind of fun to watch," said Kittleson after the match. "He was just pouring it in."
Lee finished with 5850 points, good for the top spot in the amateurgolf.com – Bridgestone Golf Player Rankings.
He narrowly edged University of Alabama-Birmingham Zach Sucher, who put together an impressive season in his own right, repeating as champion at the Cardinal Amateur, then going on to win the Azalea Amateur and the St. Augustine Amateur. He also notched runner-up finishes at the Porter Cup and Palmetto Amateur.
Although the amateurgolf.com – Bridgestone Golf Player Rankings have only been around since 2006, they’ve proven so far to be a good harbinger of success at the next level. Webb Simpson and Colt Knost, the 2006 and 2007 winners, each earned their PGA Tour card for 2009, while two-time women’s champ Stacey Lewis earned her LPGA card after taking the 2008 Q-School medalist honors.
For a look at the final men’s standings for 2008 click here.
Rickie Fowler’s freshman season at Oklahoma State one for the record books
We got our first look (and footage) of Rickie Fowler in 2007 when he was winning his second-straight CIF Southern Section Championship as a senior at Murrieta High School. He surprised us by saying he was forgoing his shot at repeating as the California High School champion to head east and compete at Sunnehanna Amateur. It was obviously the right decision, as won that event and eventually became the youngest-ever member of the Walker Cup team.
Fowler made waves again in 2008 when he became the first freshman to win the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s top collegiate golfer, beating out Jamie Lovemark and Michael Thompson.
“Being up against Michael and Jamie, I look at them as two of the best players out there. For me to be picked from a group that includes them, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Fowler said.“I look at Ben Hogan as the king of golf. To win an award that represents him, his work ethic and everything he did for the game is inspiring to me to go out and work hard.”
He was back in the news (and on Sportscenter) when he found himself in the top-10 of the U.S. Open after the first round, ahead of favorites Tiger and Phil.
Fowler capped his impressive season by becoming the individual champion at the World Amateur Team Championship in Australia, leading the squad comprised of himself, Lovemark and fellow Walker Cupper Billy Horschel to a second place finish behind first-time champion Scotland.
At the NCAA D-I Championship Kevin Chappell led UCLA victory in one of the tightest competitions in tournament history, as the Bruins edged Stanford by a stroke and crosstown rival USC by two.
"This was my fifth college win and the first I get to enjoy with my team," Chappel said. "Of course it feels special, I get to celebrate this with five, six, seven other guys that are here and the other three that are at home. It's just awesome. It's the best way to end my college career."
Amanda Blumenherst has her swan song
Over the past few years, if you were to ask anyone who follows amateur golf who the top women in the country were, Amanda Blumenherst’s name wouldn’t take long to come up. Despite an avalanche of All-American awards, player of the year titles and collegiate tournament victories, she finished her senior year at Duke never having won one of the “big ones” – a USGA or NCAA individual title.
She would get one last chance at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, a year removed from a heartbreaking runner-up finish to Colombia’s Maria Jose Uribe. After a shaky start, losing two of the first three holes to Spain’s Azahara Munoz with bogeys, and she started the second 18 holes 1-down.
But the Scottsdale native was able to right the ship in the afternoon round, and took her first lead on the 31st hole of the match, before rolling home a 5-foot par on the 35th hole to capture the title.
“I wanted this so much,” said Blumenherst, who has played in three U.S. Women’s Opens and represented the USA on two victorious Curtis Cup teams. “I think I would have been crushed if I hadn't won it, especially going to the finals again. This match was huge. Going into this tournament, I knew this was my last really amateur event and I wanted to play well. I wanted to kind of prove to everyone that I wasn't overrated or that those awards that I had gotten in college weren't kind of a coincidence or something that was given to me. I wanted to show everybody that this is the place I earned.”
Blumenherst finished with 3875 points to take the top spot in the AGC Women’s Rankings, benefiting from top-40 finishes in a pair of women’s professional majors, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Second place belonged to Alison Walshe, who was born in Ireland and whose golf odyssey took her through college stops at Boston College, Tulane and finally, Arizona State. Walshe won the Harder Hall Invitational, and finished with 2500 points.
Two-time U.S. Mid-Am champ Meghan Bolger finished in third at 2050, taking a runner-up finish at the Jones/Doherty Women’s Am and a 4th place finish at The Sally.
Not at all coincidentally, all three were members of the victorious U.S. Curtis Cup squad, which topped its Great Britain and Ireland counterparts 13-7 at St. Andrews. The victory was the sixth in a row for the U.S. side in the biennial competition, which pits the best women’s amateurs from each side of the pond in a Walker Cup-style tournament, running the their all-time record to 26-6-3 all-time.
The Curtis Cup squad was rounded out by Kimberly Kim, 16, of Hilo, Hawaii, Tiffany Joh, 21, of San Diego, Calif., Mina Harigae, 18, of Monterey, Calif. Jennie Lee, 21, of Henderson, Nev and Stacy Lewis, 22, of The Woodlands, Texas. Lewis was the two-time reigning AGC Player of the Year before turning pro and is now viewed as one of the top young stars in the game.
For a look at the final women’s standings for 2008 click here.
Washington’s Cameron Peck is top junior golfer in the nation
After three straight victories in American Junior Golf Association events, 17-year-old Camron Peck solidified his title as the top junior golfer in the country when he cruised to victory at the U.S. Junior Amateur The Olympia, Wash., native was named the AJGA Player of the Year along with and Victoria Tanco, 14, of Bradenton, Fla. Tanco won two AJGA events and the Scott Robertson Memorial.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” said Peck after he closed out Beck at the U.S. Junior with a winning par on the 28th hole. “This is the biggest win in my life.”
He is now a freshman at Texas A&M.
The AJGA, which is viewed as the top junior tour in the country, has a pair of events listed as junior majors, the AJGA Polo Junior Classic which saw Patrick Winther top Brinson Paolini 7 & 6 in the final match, and the AJGA Tournament of Champions where Cory Whitsett and Jennifer Johnson prevailed.
Sharing honors with the U.S. Junior as the top junior event in the country is the Callaway Junior Worlds which saw some drama on the 18th hole of Torrey Pines South Course a month after Tiger and Rocco’s duel for the ages. We were lucky enough to capture on film a back-and-forth affair in the boys 15-17 year old division between Canada's Eugene Wong and Australian Daniel Nisbet. The tension built until 18, when Wong sunk a 10-foot putt to make birdie and take a one-stroke victory over the Aussie.
The birdie finished off a two-shot swing on the final hole, and gave the University of Oregon-bound Wong a long-awaited victory in a tournament he has participated in since he was 10. His final score was 4-under-284 over four rounds at Torrey South.
The U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur was won by Florida’s Alexis Thompson (the runner-up for the AJGA Player of the Year) who became the youngest-ever winner at 13-years, 5 months old.
The International Junior Golf Tour also ranks its top players, breaking them down into age divisions. This year, Patrick Rodgers of Indiana won the 16-19 age division with four victories and a T-3 finish, James Yoon of Paraguay won the 13-15 by a slim, 30-point margin and Gavin deFisser took the 11-12 title.
In the girls division, Paige Spirinac took four first-place finishes and one fourth to win the 13-19 title while Dani Urman won the 11-14.
Jerry Hudgins wins Senior POY at last tourney of the season
The senior division of the amateurgolf.com – Bridgestone Golf Player Rankings was shaping up to be a tie between Paul Simson and Paul Schlachter until the final major tournament of the year, the Society of Seniors Ralph Bogart Invitational, where Jerry Hudgins of Houston, TX took fourth place to finish just ahead of Bill Zylstra of Plymouth, MI.
Hudgins scored victories in the SoS Dale Morey Championship, SoS Dale Morey Championship and the Dave King Invitational while Zylstra won twice and had ten top-6 finishes.
The U.S. Senior Amateur was a battle of two legends of the amateur game, 2007 and current Walker Cup captain Buddy Marucci and New York stalwart U.S. Senior Amateur George Zahringer. It was Marucci’s first USGA victory. The closest he previously came was a defeat to some guy named Tiger Woods at the 1993 U.S. Amateur.
“Of all my accomplishments in golf, this has to top the list,” said Marucci. “I can’t wait to walk into the USGA Museum and see my name up on the Hall of Champions. It means a lot to finally win one of these after all of my years of trying.”
On the women’s side, it’s getting to be common to see Jamaica native Diane Lang hoisting the trophy at the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur. Lang, who now lives in Florida, won the title in 2005 and 2006 regained the title with a 6 & 5 victory over Toni Wiexner.
“This is my most special one” said Lang after the match. “This makes all the hard work worthwhile. I put in a lot of sweat and tears over the last year to get my name on that trophy again. For a little girl from Jamaica, that ain’t half bad.”
For a look at the final senior standings for 2008 click here.
By Peter Conroy