by Ron Balicki
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (August 8, 2009) – John Hahn didn’t have much match play experience heading into the 107th Western Amateur Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club.
Hahn had lost in the first round of the 2006 U.S. Junior Amateur and the second round of a U.S. Amateur later that summer.
But he turned those fortunes around and completed a sweep of four matches over two days, highlighted by a 3-and-2 victory Saturday over Zach Barlow to win biggest title of his young career.
“For some reason, match play has always been tough for me,” Hahn said. “Maybe that was because I doubted myself. But this week I was confident from start to finish. What a great time to end that match play jinx.”
Hahn, 20, of Hudson, Ohio, and a junior-to-be at Kent State, never trailed after the opening hole as he denied Barlow, 22, of Percy, Ill., and a rising senior at Illinois, of becoming the first player from the Land of Lincoln to win this prestigious championship since Jack Westland in 1933.
In joining the impressive honor roll of champions that includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Chirs DiMarco and Francis Ouimet, Hahn becomes the first player from Ohio to win the Western Amateur since Craig Kanada in 1990 and Tom Weiskopf in 1963.
“I think it’s always special to represent your city, your school, your state your country, whatever,” Hahn said. “So in that sense, this is very special to me.”
In the morning semifinals, Hahn defeated Bud Cauley, a sophomore-to-be at Alabama, 2 and 1. Barlow turned back Patrick Reed, a rising sophomore at Augusta State, 3 and 2.
In the title match, Barlow won the opening hole with a bogey, but Hahn won four holes in a row starting at No. 3 with a par-birdie-par-par run to go 3 up.
Barlow won the eighth hole with a par, but at the ninth – which proved to be a key turning point – Hahn won with a conceded 3-foot birdie putt after Barlow sent his downhill 4-foot birdie try 7 feet past the hole and missed the come back effort.
After Barlow cut the margin to 2-up with a par at the 11th, Hahn won the next two holes with pars to go 4-up.
Barlow kept battling and sank a 10-foot birdie putt to win the par-5 14th and kept the match alive with a pressure-filled 3-footer to save par at the 15th.
At the 16th, Hahn rolled his 25-foot birdie try to 2 1/2 feet and after Barlow missed his 12-foot birdie putt, Hahn tapped in for the victory.
“In my morning round I just kept it simple and played solid and made a lot of pars,” said Barlow, the 2008 Illinois State Amateur champion. “That’s what John did to me in the afternoon. He just put pressure on me the whole round.”
Still, Barlow said he will take a great deal away from his week at Conway Farms and his inaugural Western Amateur appearance.
“Overall the whole week was fantastic,” he said. “I learned so many things about myself and my game. I didn’t get the job done in the end this time, but I think the next time a situation like this comes around I’ll be able to draw on this experience and get the job done.
Barlow, however, won’t be going up against Hahn at the U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills at the end of the month.
Hahn’s missed qualifying for the U.S. Am by a shot. Not a bad way to end the summer, though, for the young man who attends Kent State on the Ben Curtis scholarship.
In fact, Curtis, the 2003 British Open champion who played his college golf for coach Herb Page and the Golden Flashes, and Hahn are very good friends.
“Ben has always been a great role model for me,” said Hahn. “I think some of the best advice Ben has given me was to believe in myself and not doubt my ability. That was definitely the case this week.
“For me, this (victory) is probably similar to Ben winning the British Open,” said Hahn, who won the Mid-American Conference Championship and Towson Invitational during the 2008-09 season. “I’m very proud to win this championship, especially because of the history behind it and all of the great players who have won it.”
It was made even more special for Hahn because his father, John, and older sister, Samantha, watched him play the final day.
John, who works for Titleist and in March was transferred to Las Vegas, flew to Ohio on Friday and drove all night to arrive at Conway Farms. Samantha, a senior-to-be at Central Florida in Orlando, Fla., flew to Chicago the night before.
“It was great having them here and having them see me win,” Hahn said. “It makes it all the more special, if that’s even possible.”
Neither Hahn nor Barlow trailed in their semifinals matches.
Hahn went 1-up with a par at the fourth hole, but Cauley, a second-team All-America as a freshman last season and winner this summer of the Players Amateur, squared the match with a birdie at No. 8. Hahn took the lead for good with birdies at 14 and 15 and closed the door when he matched Cauley’s par at the 17th.
Barlow got things going quickly, winning the opening hole with a par and No. 3 with a birdie. Reed, a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Amateur and quarterfinalist at this year’s North & South Amateur, won the fourth hole with a bogey. Barlow came back and went 3-up by winning No. 5 with a par and No. 7 with a birdie, then closed out the match with a two-putt par at 16.
• • •
Ron Balicki is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach him e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.