By Bill Huffman
SCOTTSDALE, AZ (Aug. 6, 2011) -- Match play is one of golf’s most fickle and funny games. Just when a player thinks he’s got it all figured out, the mano y mano format jumps up and bites him like a sleeping dog.
That lesson straight out of the school of hard knocks was reaffirmed Saturday in the final match of the 87th Arizona Amateur Championship. After being on cruise control for the better part of five days at the Country Club at DC Ranch, Scottsdale’s Bowen Osborn and Michael Wog had some teeth marks to show for their final 18 holes.
When the scraping and scrambling finally subsided, it was Osborn who came though it in the best shape for a 1-up win over Wog. Both players had been on a birdie/eagle barrage earlier in the week, but on this hot summer morning neither managed to break par despite the match going the full 18 holes.
“It wasn’t pretty, but I guess I did enough to get it done,’’ said the 31-year-old Osborn, who snapped a seven-year trend of college-age players (22 or younger) winning this major championship sponsored by the Arizona Golf Association.
“I got off to a good start, but it was pretty squirrel-ly after that. Probably just a lot of golf for the week, and I think we both got a little tired at the end.’’
Wog, at 29 a veteran of AGA tournament play for the past eight years, was a little more demonstrative about his only bad round in the eight he had played over the past six days.
“I played like crap,’’ said Wog, using another word in place of “crap.’’
“I gave him four holes (Nos. 6, 14, 15 and 17) and you just can’t do that at this stage of the game. This was probably my worst round of the week. I guess you do that sometimes in match play – play bad at the wrong time.’’
While neither of the finalists were happy with their results, it was a very tight match as 1-up was as big a lead as either player was able to establish. For those counting, Osborn had that 1-up advantage for eight holes (Nos. 1,2,3, 6, 7, 15, 17 and 18), Wog wrestled it away for three holes (Nos. 11-13) and the match was all-square for seven holes. Believe it or not, neither player made a birdie over the last nine holes.
The tipping point came at the par-5 17th, where Wog hit his approach shot barely over the green and then chunked his chip, which led to his fourth bogey (or worse) of the day. That put Osborn dormie with that ever-familiar 1-up lead, and when Wog’s drive at the 18th caught the lip of a bunker and rolled back into the sand, both players halved the hole with a par, Osborn rolling in the winner from six feet despite the putt being a downhill slider.
“Yeah, that's really (the putt) you want there!’’ Osborn deadpanned. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous every round. You just play through it.’’
Actually, both players had a little competitive rust coming into this tournament. Osborn, the No. 4 seed whose claims to fame came in 2002, when he won both the Patriot League individual championship while he was at Lehigh and the Minnesota Amateur in his home state, hadn’t played at this level in almost seven years. Wog, the No. 6 seed who stepped away from the game last year to help his father through some tough times in his home state of Washington, also had just come back recently from a thumb injury that kept him away from the course for several months.
“I play tons of golf with my buddies, but nothing like this. I was shaking before every match,’’ conceded Osborn, whose card included just one birdie and one bogey (or worse) and a whole lot of pars. Both players came through their opposite brackets with relative ease until they squared off in the championship. The end result was especially hard for Wog to swallow as he had never trailed in a match all week until the very first hole on Saturday, when Osborn punched an 8-iron from 176 yards to eight feet and made the birdie and go, 1-up.
“That’s what I’d been doing to the other guy all week,’’ said Wog, who holed birdies at Nos. 4 and 8 to square the match. “But it was early, and I really wasn’t worried because I knew we had a long way to go.’’
As for the chunk at 17, Wog just shook his head in disbelief. “I had a little piece of grass behind the ball, caught it thin and almost T.C. Chen-ed it,’’ he said of the infamous shot and subsequent two-stroke penalty incurred by Chen for his ball hitting his clubface twice during a chip shot at the 1984 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills.
Despite his regrets, Wog did manage to put the week in perspective, saying it was “a lot of fun’’ and “there’s always next year.’’
“I can’t say enough about the way we were treated at DC Ranch and how great of condition the golf course was in for this championship,’’ said the introspective Wog, a waiter who works at Eddie V’s in the Scottsdale Quarter.
Osborn, an easygoing guy who is in charge of corporate development for Shotzoom, a Scottsdale company that makes apps for iPhones and iPads, most notably the GolfShot:Golf GPS, was equally as appreciative.
“(The staff at DC Ranch) made us all feel like it was our home for the week, and that was really a nice touch,’’ he said of the private club in Scottsdale that is run by general manager Paul Skelton and director of golf Dick Hyland.
It was an amazing effort by the DC Ranch gang, as all 144 players were each given a locker and a private parking space with their names on them, as well as some incredible service, and food and drink.
The final touch included a champagne salute to a tournament well done, as the champion and runner-up toasted each others success, a rare moment that only seems to happen in the game of golf.
View results for Arizona Amateur Golf Championship