TRUCKEE, Calif. (July 29, 2011) - Prior to the 45th Pacific Coast Amateur Championship, Jim Holtgrieve, the 2011 United States Walker Cup Captain, urged the competitors to "play hard and earn a spot on the team." Chris Williams of Moscow, Idaho answered that challenge as he fired his second consecutive course-record round of 6-under-par 66 to win the prestigious title by two shots at Martis Camp near Lake Tahoe.
With multiple lead changes early and often and eagles soaring throughout the afternoon, the 21-year-old Williams, who earlier this month won the Sahalee Players Championship, finished at 11-under par with rounds of 73-72-66-66--277 over the scenic and challenging Tom Fazio-designed layout that once again stretched out to 7,766 yards. His win today gives him titles in two-thirds of the "West Coast Swing" of championships which also includes the Pacific Northwest Amateur.
Williams rallied from three shots off the pace to overtake third-round leader Taylor Travis of Fremont, Calif. and Anton Arboleda of La Canada, Calif. Travis, a 20-year-old rising junior at the University of San Francisco, battled to hold the lead all afternoon (he was tied with Williams on the 18th tee) but was ultimately undone by making bogey 6s on three of the four par-5 holes and then finishing with a bogey 5 on the 504-yard, par-4 finishing hole. Travis finished in a tie for second at 9-under par 69-70-69-71--279.
The 18-year-old Arboleda, who will be a sophomore this fall at UCLA, got off to a sizzling start, making two eagles in his first seven holes (he was 5 under par for the day after No. 7) but couldn't sustain the momentum, finishing with 71-72-69-67 to match Travis' 9-under-par total,
Mitchell Evanecz of Reed Deer, Alberta, and Derek Ernst of Clovis, Calif., who held the first-round lead after shooting then course record 67s, finished tied for fourth at 8-under par 280. Zac Blair, the winner of last week's Pacific Northwest Amateur, wound up in sixth place today, closing with a 68 today for a 281 total.
Things didn't look promising for Williams when he plugged his opening drive under the lip of a fairway bunker, ultimately making bogey 5. Ignoring the bad break, Williams went birdie-eagle-birdie on the next three holes to take what would be a short-lived lead. The first of his two eagles on the day came after he laced a 5-iron second shot to within eight feet on the 568-yard, par-5 fourth hole.
Arboleda mounted a furious early charge, sinking a 45-foot eagle putt on the fourth hole and holing out from a greenside bunker for eagle 3 on the 565-yard seventh hole to seize the lead. It lasted about 10 minutes because Travis, playing in the group behind Arboleda, knocked his second shot to within six feet of the hole and sank the eagle putt to retake the advantage.
Two-shot swings were the order of the day as Williams made birdie 4 on the 642-yard 10th hole, while Travis three-putted for bogey. Travis answered back when his eight-iron shot danced around the 13th hole, settling inches away, and then sinking a 15-foot putt over a hump for a birdie 2 on the 170-yard 14th hole.
The 569-yard 15th hole ultimately proved to be decisive. Williams knocked his 4-iron approach shot off a bank and rolled it to within 15 feet of the flagstick and drained the putt for an eagle 3. "That approach was the shot I played all week," said Williams after his round. "The slope made it the obvious choice." Meanwhile, Travis hit what he later termed "just a bad" shot into a fairway bunker 60 yards from the green, ultimately making bogey 6 to fall a shot off of the lead.
The back-and-forth continued apace. On the 314-yard 16th hole, Travis' drive was in thick rough below the green and his chip hit the flagstick, stopping inches away. "I actually thought I had made it," he said later. "It hit the flagstick pretty square and just didn't drop in. That was sort of the day I had." Faced with what he termed "a wild lie" under a lip in a bunker a foot away from where Travis' drive had landed, Williams did well to get his explosion shot on the green and ultimately two-putted for par to fall back into a tie for the lead.
Meanwhile, Arboleda - who had made eight pars and a bogey over a nine-hole stretch - got back to within one shot of the lead when he drained a downhill, sliding 30-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, but he missed an eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole. "You don't expect to make two eagles in a round, let alone in seven holes," said Arboleda after his round. "I kept hitting good shots and tried to stay aggressive while playing smart at the same time."
After Williams and Travis parred the 17th, Travis hooked his drive into thick rough and trees on the finishing hole. "I expected that he'd be able to make par," said Williams of Travis, "so I figured I'd have to make birdie to win." Williams bombed his drive 384 yards to the right center of the fairway.
"I hit my driver well all week," he said later. "It was the best club in my bag." He then lofted a lob wedge from 120 yards to within three feet of the flagstick. Travis knocked his approach shot 20 feet past the flagstick and, after he missed the par putt, Williams calmly sank the birdie putt for the two-shot win and a final round that matched the course record he had set the day before. (Earlier in the day, USC student Martin Trainer of Palo Alto, Calif. and Stanford University golf coach Conrad Ray had also matched the record).
After the round, Williams spoke of his dream of playing on the U.S. Walker Cup team, which will play a 10-man team from Great Britain in the 42nd renewal of the matches Sept. 9-10 at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland.
"I would absolutely love to be on the team," said Williams, who played in the U.S. Open last June, was a member of the U.S. Palmer Cup that same month and won the NCAA's Phil Mickelson Award winner as the nation's top freshman golfer in 2010. "Playing for your country is such a great honor; it's a totally different experience from playing college golf or even in something like the Palmer Cup. But there are so many good players out there. I'm heading to Chicago to play in the Western Amateur next week and we'll see where things go from there."