Lebanon, Ohio (July 15, 2005) -- Clay Ogden needed three playoff holes just before dusk on Tuesday night to claim one of the last spots in the match play bracket for the 2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at the 6,966-yard, par-70 Shaker Run Golf Club. Now the 20-year-old from West Point, Utah, is a victory away from winning the championship.
The Brigham Young University rising junior followed up his stunning 5-and-4 quarterfinal victory over 15-year-old phenom Michelle Wie of Honolulu, Hawaii, with a 2-and-1 win over Garrett Jones, 20, of Rewey, Wis., on Friday afternoon to earn a berth in Saturday’s 36-hole championship against 19-year-old Martin Ureta of Chile, a 20-hole survivor over the stroke-play medalist Anthony Kim, 20, of La Quinta, Calif.
The morning 18 is scheduled for 7:30 a.m., with the afternoon 18 set for 12:15 p.m.
The finalists are exempt into the 2005 U.S. Amateur to be played Aug. 22-28 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., with the winner getting a 10-year APL exemption along with the likely invitation to the 2006 Masters. That berth is up to the discretion of Augusta National Golf Club, which has invited every APL winner since 1989. The two semifinal losers received exemptions to the APL for the next two years.
The champion also receives a three-year exemption from local qualifying for the U.S. Open (runner-up gets a one-year local exemption), a gold medal and possession of the James Standish Trophy for one year. The runner-up gets a silver medal and a three-year APL exemption, while the semifinal losers receive a two-year APL exemption and bronze medals.
Even though the gallery – and media contingent – dwindled considerably in the afternoon with Wie’s departure from the championship, Ogden, a 2004 APL quarterfinalist who lost to eventual champion Ryan Moore, didn’t allow himself to suffer a letdown, even though he didn’t match his birdie barrage from the morning when he totaled five (one conceded). He had just two against Jones (one conceded) and played the equivalent of one over par over 17 holes.
“It’s hard to explain,” said Ogden of his whirlwind week in southwestern Ohio. “It was a goal at the start of the week [to win the championship] and I got lucky enough to hang around. This morning was probably one of the funnest days I have ever had on the golf course. It was a little different [in the afternoon], but you still have to go along and try to play golf.”
All four semifinalists endured two weather delays – the first coming at 2:45 p.m. and lasting 100 minutes and the second at 4:54 p.m. that lasted 86 minutes – meaning the competitors were at the course Friday nearly 12 hours.
The Jones-Ogden match was on 15 when the second delay hit and Jones hit a pitching-wedge approach to 18 feet for a birdie to square the match. But at 16, he three-putted from 35 feet, missing a 6-footer for par, to go 1 down and on 17, Jones hit his drive into the hazard and wound up conceding a short birdie putt to Ogden.
“I played that hole really poorly all week,” said Jones, who was competing in his first USGA competition. “I doubled it the first day of stroke play (shot 66) and I bogeyed it the second round. I don’t known. It has my number, I guess.”
Kim’s putter, meanwhile, cooled off considerably against Ureta, an honorable-mention All-America this past season at the University of North Carolina where he’ll be a junior this fall. After making 19 birdies in his three previous matches, including six in his morning 5-and-4 quarterfinal victory over Ryan Keeney of Redmond, Wash., Kim managed just two over 20 holes against Ureta.
Ureta appeared to have the match lost after the first weather delay when his approach shot to the par-4 18th bounced over the green and came within 5 feet of entering the water hazard. With Kim some 25 feet from the hole for birdie and facing a difficult pitch over a rise and then down to the flag, Ureta flopped a pitch that rolled to within 5 feet of the hole.
“I just told myself to hit it firm and I did,” said Ureta, who came to the U.S. as a 15-year-old and attended a golf academy at Saddlebrook in the Tampa, Fla., area.
One hole earlier, Kim made a miraculous birdie after hitting his drive into the high weeds and was forced to punch out. Seeing his opponent in trouble, Ureta decided to use 4-iron off the tee and layed up with a 5-iron, giving himself about 80 yards for his third. Kim’s 175-yard, 7-iron approach shot stopped 24 feet from the flag. When Kim holed the putt, he gave an authoritative fist-pump. Ureta then missed his 20-footer and suddenly the match was all square.
“I hit a lot of good putts today that just didn’t go in,” said Kim. “I played as hard as I could. Martin did what he had to do to win the match and that is that.”
Neither player could convert birdie putts at the 19th hole, although Kim was just off the green but had a difficult lie. Ureta missed from 18 feet, Kim from 15. At the 20th hole, Ureta drilled his approach shot to 10 feet. Kim was 25 feet short when play was suspended for a second time. After the delay and a healthy dousing of rain, Ureta decided not to warm up but rather hit a few putts on the green, trying to simulate what he faced on hole 20. His caddie, Tom Shoop, actually insisted he hit a few putts to get a feel for the speed of the greens.
Ureta stroked the ball perfectly and the birdie advanced him into the finals.
“During lunch [after beating 16-year-old Rory Hie in the quarters], I told my caddie I have to step it up in the afternoon because I knew I was playing a great player,” said Ureta, who had seven top-10 finishes this past season for the Tar Heels. He also qualified as an individual for the NCAAs. “Both of us didn’t putt very well and we missed a bunch of chances, but it was a good match.”
Ureta could be the second Chilean to win a USGA championship, following Nicole Perrot. The current LPGA Tour player won the 2001 U.S. Girls’ Junior and was runner-up at the ’01 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“This is real big,” said Ureta. “I probably don’t know how big it is. I don’t want to think about it right now. I’ll start to think about it once I get home.”
Perhaps with the APL trophy in tow and a future piece of mail offering an invitation to a big tournament next April.
Story written by USGA staff writer David Shefter. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.