PEBBLE BEACH, CA (August 19, 2005) -- From his first-round 68 in stroke play qualifying to the last putt he holed, Olson was in control of his game and was the player to beat. With a 4 and 3 victory over Eric Lillibridge, the 18-year-old became the 102nd champion in the NCGA Amateur's glorious history. Olson's win represents just the third time the medalist has won since stroke-play qualifying was reinstituted (1985). And after making it look easy all week, Olson was suitably excited by the accomplishment.
"This is awesome," said Olson. "This is the biggest tournament I have ever won. I beat a lot of very talented guys this week."
Olson essentially put the match away as early as the morning 18, taking a 3-up lead despite a self-described "sloppy round." The Aptos High graduate built his lead thanks to solid ball striking and reliable putting. Olson calls Spyglass "one of my favorite courses anywhere" and was fittingly very comfortable on the treacherous 6,938-yard layout. On the other hand, Lillibridge was scrambling from the start of the match.
"All day I was a little hesitant," explained Lillibridge. "I left myself in some bad spots and had to rely on up-and-downs for par. It wasn't until the end when I started being aggressive and feeling more confident with my game."
While Lillibridge was consumed with trying to save par, Olson went on a birdie barrage starting on No. 9 in the afternoon round. A birdie putt in the heart of the cup from 17 feet gave Olson momentum and a 5-up advantage with only nine holes to play. He followed that birdie with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 to go 7-up with seven to play.
"My birdie on No. 9 was the turning point," said Olson. "I picked up momentum from that hole and was able to get a second wind."
Facing what could have been a quick exit, Lillibridge mounted a comeback by draining consecutive 30 foot birdie putts on Nos. 13 and 14. The electrifying birdie on the par-5 14th looked improbable after he overcooked his drive and it settled 20 yards right of the fairway amongst a smattering of tall pine trees. Knowing he had to make four, Lillibridge played a low shot through an opening of trees no wider than five feet. The aggressive rescue shot left him only 98 yards to the flag. A mediocre wedge shot was followed by a long winding putt he "willed in" to keep his chances alive. A missed 18 foot birdie try on the next hole coupled with a two-putt par by Olson ended the drama and the match. Nevertheless, the championship was still a success for Lillibridge.
"This week has been a great learning experience," said Lillibridge, who played Spyglass for the first time during stroke play qualifying at the start of the week. "This is the best preparation for next week (U.S. Amateur) because there aren't very many courses as difficult as Spyglass. I am very happy with how I am playing,"
While Lillibridge's collegiate career is winding down – he is a rising senior at Santa Clara – Olson will be a freshman at UNLV in the fall. The champion's medal he took home Friday could hardly have been a better souvenir from his last summer before college. Among other things, his summer vacation included an exhibition with Hall of Fame golfer Juli Inskter, a victory Sunday at the Santa Cruz Amateur as well as his first-ever appearance in a USGA national championship.
Olson has quickly made a name for himself in Northern California. His resume includes the 2004 high school state championship, during which he aced the 16th hole. He also has won two consecutive Santa Cruz City Amateur titles at DeLaveaga and led the California Amateur at Pebble Beach for the first round this summer before falling in the second round of match play. Heading to the U.S. Amateur on a red-eye flight to Pennsylvania Friday with an opportunity to showcase his talents on the national stage, Olson doesn't want to get ahead of himself. When asked what his goals are, the newly crowned champion simply says he wants to "get some sleep on the plane."
For complete results, click on the tournament link above (amateurgolf.com membership requested).