by Sean Martin
GLENCOE, Ill. – For most of the players at the Western Amateur, “hard work” means spending hours on the driving range. Australia’s Kieran Pratt, the Western Amateur’s surprise semifinalist, knows what manual labor really is.
Pratt, 22, does labor for a construction company when he’s not working on his golf at Australia’s famed Victorian Institute of Sport, which has developed players such as Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley.
"I just do a little bit of work here and there, just to help the old man out so he doesn't have to pay for everything," Pratt said with a laugh.
Pratt has worked his way into the Final Four at Skokie Country Club alongside three players – Gregor Main, Chan Kim and David Chung – who’ve already claimed some of this country’s biggest amateur titles.
Main, who’ll face Pratt in Saturday’s semifinals, won last year’s Southern Amateur. Kim claimed last year’s Pacific Coast Amateur. Chung won just last week, at the Porter Cup. The Western Am’s final will also be held Saturday.
Main and Kim had to survive a 6-for-2 playoff just to advance to match play this week.
“It is weird,” Kim said about the fact that the two playoff participants have advanced to the semis. “That actually crossed my mind out there a couple times.”
John Hahn won last year’s Western after advancing to match play out of a playoff.
Pratt, who’s from the Melbourne suburb of Torquay, is one of several Australians on an annual tour of the United States’s top amateur events. Nick Flanagan was on such a barnstorming circuit when he claimed the 2003 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont.
Pratt hasn’t had quite the same success. “I’ve played pretty ordinary,” said Pratt, who’s playing in the States for the first time. “It hasn’t been anything of note over here, so I wanted to do something this week.”
The Western is Pratt’s final event of a seven-week journey across the United States.
He finished 29th at the Dogwood Invitational, 36th at the Players Amateur, 26th at the Southern Amateur and 63rd at last week’s Porter Cup.
His results in the States may make him unfamiliar here, but Pratt is one of the world’s best amateurs. At No. 10, he’s the third-ranked Australian in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com Rankings.
He won four titles during this past amateur season in Australia, including an 11-shot victory at the prestigious Lake Macquarie Amateur. His third-round 63 matched the course record of PGA Tour player Jason Day.
“That was a pretty red-hot patch there for a little while,” he said.
Pratt also tied for sixth in the Australian stroke-play championship, and made it to the quarterfinals of the Australian Amateur. He advanced to the Round of 32 in the British Amateur earlier this summer.
“He’s been the most consistent player in (Australian) amateur golf since September,” VIS assistant golf coach Darren Cole told the Sydney Herald Sun in June.
Pratt is seeking a spot on the three-man team that will represent Australia at the World Amateur Team Championship Oct. 28-31 in Argentina. After that, Pratt said he will turn pro and attempt Q-School for the Australasian and Asian tours.
Like Pratt, Kim has Q-School in his near future. Kim, 20, said he will attempt PGA Tour Q-School later this year. If he doesn’t make it through a U.S. Amateur qualifier next week, he’ll turn pro and attempt Monday qualifiers on the Nationwide Tour.
Pratt had to birdie his final two holes of stroke play to avoid a playoff for the final berths in the Western’s 16-man, match-play bracket. He was 3 down after seven holes in his first-round match against Augusta State’s Henrik Norlander on Friday morning, but won Nos. 8-10 to pull all square.
He started the rally by holing out a 7-iron from 176 yards on the par-4 eighth hole. Pratt played his final 10 holes against Norlander in 6 under to win, 3 and 1.
Pratt never trailed in the afternoon against a fatigued Yaroslav Merkulov, who was carrying his own bag and playing his fourth round in two days. Merkulov, an incoming freshman at Duke, had to play his final two rounds of stroke play Thursday, then defeat Auburn’s Blayne Barber earlier Friday.
Match play results from first two rounds of the Western Amateur, played Aug. 6 at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Ill. follow. For complete results, click on the "results' link at the bottom of the page or the tournament name at the top.
Gregor Main def. Travis Woolf, 3 and 2
Kieran Pratt def. Yaroslav Merkulov, 3 and 2
Chan Kim def. Cam Burke, 2 and 1
David Chung def. Jeffery Kang, 1 up
• • •
ROUND OF 16
Gregor Main def. Cheng-Tsung Pan, 2 and 1
Travis Woolf def. Andres Echavarria, 2 and 1
Yaroslav Merkulov def. Blayne Barber, 2 and 1
Kieran Pratt def. Henrik Norlander, 3 and 1
Chan Kim def. Tom Hoge, 3 and 2
Cam Burke def. Ethan Tracy, 1 up
David Chung def. Scott Pinckney, 21 holes
Jeffery Kang def. Lion Kim, 3 and 2