by Ron Balicki
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (Aug. 28, 2010) – Turning 21 is a milestone in the lives of most people. It’s a memorable day – one they remember for a long, long time if not forever. After all, it’s the day that, in the eyes of the world, one “officially” becomes an adult.
There’s no doubt Peter Uihlein will always remember his 21st birthday – where he was, what he was doing, and what it all meant.
That’s because on Sunday and birthday No. 21, the Oklahoma State junior will be trying to give himself the ultimate birthday gift of his young life – the Havenmeyer Trophy as the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion.
Uihlein advanced to the 36-hole title match Saturday at Chambers Bay when he defeated Patrick Cantlay, 18, and an incoming freshman at UCLA, 4 and 3.
But David Chung, 20, a junior at Stanford, is lurking close by and appears primed and ready to crash the birthday bash. Chung made his way into the championship with a 1-up victory over Byeong-Hun An, who was trying to become the first back-to-back winner of this championship since Tiger Woods won three in a row from 1994-96.
“It would be picture perfect,” said Uihlein if he did win it all. “But right now I just have to thinking about going out tomorrow and beating David.”
So far, that’s something he hasn’t been able to do in the past. The two have competed together since they’ve been 10 years old and twice have played each other in match play. Chung has won both times – in the Round of 16 (21 holes) at the 2005 U.S. Junior Amateur and this past spring during the NCAA Championship (1-up).
It seems only fitting these two face each other for America’s premier championship. Coming into the week, Uihlein was No. 2 in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com World Ranking while Chung was No. 4. Nos. 1 and 3 were not in the field.
Still, both Uihlein and Chung have already gained one of golf’s top prizes, especially for an amateur. As finalists, they earn invitations to compete next April at the Masters at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club.
“To be able to play in the Masters, the U.S. Open, that’s pretty cool,” said Uihlein, who went 4-0 last year in helping lead the U.S. to victory at the Walker Cup. “Really, it hasn’t all sunk in yet.”
Peter Uihlein advanced to the final match at the U.S. Amateur after beating Patrick Cantlay, 4 and 3.
Tracy Wilcox photo
For Chung, it’s not only sunk in, but has been on his mind since Friday’s quarterfinal round.
“Thinking about the Masters, the U.S. Open, I couldn’t keep it off my mind yesterday,” Chung said. “I went out there (Masters) in 2008 for the first time. It was the ultimate, a truly great experience. I tried not to think about out there today, but it was definitely on my mind throughout the round.”
After going at least 17 holes in each of his first four matches, including one at 19 holes and two at 18, Uihlein, a first-team All-American, pretty much was in total control against Cantlay, who was one of the country’s top junior players before turning his full attention to the amateur competition this summer.
“It was a good match,” said Uihlein, who earlier this summer won the Sahalee Players Championship at the nearby Home Course, the second layout used in stroke play qualifying. “I just happened to make a few more putts than he did.”
And, after winning the first hole with a par, those putts became hole savers. Uihlein sank key putts of 12 feet at No. 2, 20 feet at No. 3, 6-feet at the fourth and 15 feet at No. 5 – and those were to halve the hole.
He birdied No. 6 to go 2-up, but Cantlay birdied the eighth, the only hole he won all match. Uihlein added a birdie at the ninth to go 2-up, made par at 14 to go 3-up and closed things out with a birdie at 15.
For Cantlay, the entire week has provided an experience he hopes will benefit him down the road.
“While it’s disappointing to lose, I think I’ll take a lot of confidence going into college,” said Cantlay, who finished second this summer at the Southern Amateur. “I’ve learned a lot this week and a lot today. I think you can learn from a loss if you really analyze how you felt and what you did. I’m going to take a lot of positive things from this.”
It should come as no surprise that Chung, a third-team All-American, is one of the last two standing from the starting field of 312. Arguably, he’s the hottest player in the country right now, coming off back-to-back victories in the Porter Cup and the Western Amateur within the last month and carrying it over to this week.
Byeong-Hun An reacts to his semifinal loss to David Chung at the 18th green.
Tracy Wilcox photo
It certainly didn’t look too good for Chung starting out as An played the first six holes in 6-under par with four birdies and an eagle to go 3-up, a lead he held through nine holes.
“Ben played unbelievable those first six holes,” Chung said. “It was actually fun for me to watch him. But I also knew there were still plenty of holes left and if I stayed patient, calm and focused, I had time to come back.”
Chung won Nos. 10 and 12 with birdies and then squared the match with a par at the 15th. Chung took his first lead of the day with a birdie at No. 16, but An answered and won 17 with a par.
“For me the match kind of started at 13,” Chung said. “That’s when it’s decision time, those last six holes. I was only 1-down and I knew this was the time I had to really buckle down and get things done.”
After An pushed his 5-iron approach shot into a greenside bunker at the par-4 18th and was unable to get up and down – he would make a double bogey 6 – Chung two-putted from 40 feet for the win.
“Today was by the my toughest match of the tournament,” Chung said. “He was the toughest match play opponent I’ve ever faced.”
For An, it was a tough loss.
“I played great golf today,” he said. “The front nine was just perfect golf, I think. Maybe that’s what makes it so disappointing because I was playing so well but just couldn’t get it done the last few holes. I just missed a lot of chances.
“Give David a lot of credit. He played great golf as well. It was just a good, tough match.”