By Ryan Lavner
ERIN, WIS.(Aug. 28, 2011) — The
winner of the 111th U.S. Amateur never
reached the state tournament in high school,
chose SMU because it was convenient,
became a three-time conference player of the
year, and with his eligiblity exhausted, decided
this summer to pour all of himself into making
the Walker Cup team.
In the past 11 weeks, Kelly Kraft has
played eight tournaments. This was his last
stop. And with his former teammates and
coach having flown across the country to
watch his unlikely coronation, Kraft held off
Patrick Cantlay, the top-ranked amateur in the
world, in a taut 36-hole final Sunday to win
the U.S. Amateur and earn that coveted spot
on the Walker Cup team. Such a logical career
“It’s awesome,” said
Kraft, 22, the silver Havemeyer Trophy by his
side. “It’s such an honor to win
And it only got better minutes after
winning. On the 18th green, U.S. Walker Cup
captain Jim Holtgrieve walked up to Kraft and
said: “See you in Scotland.”
“I almost had a heart
attack,” Kraft said, smiling.
On another sun-splashed day at Erin Hills,
Kraft played steady down the stretch and
capitalized on two late, uncharacteristic
mistakes by Cantlay to win, 2 up. The victory
likely nets Kraft a Masters invite, and he will be
exempt into the U.S. Open and British Open.
That alone promises to alter his post-college
plans. After the U.S. Amateur, the fifth-year
senior at SMU intended to turn pro and
attempt qualifying school while completing his
sociology degree. Now, he has a reason to
retain his amateur status.
“I haven’t thought about
that yet,” Kraft said. “I definitely
want to play in the Masters. That’s
something I’ll have to think
Despite losing in the final, Cantlay
cemented his place atop the amateur heirarchy
and became one of the main stories of the
summer. He became the No. 1 amateur in the
world. He earned low-amateur honors at the
U.S. Open. He shot 60 in a PGA Tour event. He
set a Tour record. All at age 19. But Sunday,
in the biggest match of his blossoming career,
the UCLA sophomore was undone by a poor
tee shot on the drivable 15th, a three-putt
from 15 feet on 16 and, for the first time this
week, failed to muster any late-round magic on
the final two holes. Time to go back to
disappointed,” he said.
“I’m not thinking about what I did
earlier this summer right now.”
That Cantlay even advanced to the U.S.
Amateur final was a testament to both his
talent and tenacity. In an explosive Round of
32 match against Russell Henley, the
Nationwide Tour winner and fellow U.S. Walker
Cupper, Cantlay was 2 down as he played No.
17 but chipped in to win the hole, made birdie
on the final hole and prevailed in 21 holes. He
summoned a similar feat against Max Buckley in
the quarterfinals, winning the last three holes
(including the first playoff hole) to advance.
So it was no surprise, then, that Cantlay
began to mount a charge after falling 4 down
after the 16th hole in the morning session. He
holed a 50-foot birdie putt on 17 to win the
hole, then capitalized when Kraft chopped up
18 and made triple bogey. Two down heading
into the afternoon, Cantlay won Nos. 6 and 11
with pars to seize his first lead since the third
hole. But Cantlay pulled an 8-iron “20
yards left” off the 252-yard, par-4 15th
into the pot bunker and lost the hole, three-
putted on the 16th hole and made bogey on
the par-5 18th hole to lose.
“Obviously, he played better than
me,” Cantlay said, “but I feel like
I threw away the golf tournament.”
The interesting thing about
Cantlay’s meteoric ascension in the
amateur rankings is that he did so without a
national victory. He won the Southern
California Amateur and was runner-up at the
Western, where he lost to another unheralded
player, Arkansas’ Ethan Tracy.
This time, it was Kraft’s turn. On
Friday, he endured the longest match of the
week – 23 holes, against UNLV’s
Blake Biddle. When it was over, Kraft returned
to the clubhouse for a 30-minute break,
scarfed down a pulled-pork sandwich and had
time for only a few practice putts before
taking on his quarterfinal opponent, Patrick
Rodgers, a U.S. Walker Cupper. That may have
been to his advantage. He thrived in that
situation, showing few signs of fatigue and
winning, 6 and 4, to reach the semis.
Kraft’s next opponent was no slouch,
either, but Jack Senior, a GB&I Walker
Cup team member, never led after the first
hole and lost, 3 and 2.
As for the final, Kraft never had played
with Cantlay, but vowed to stay even-keeled.
“Then I can hopefully do some
celebrating,” he said.
On Sunday, he had some company. Eight
of his former SMU teammates boarded a
private jet at 6 a.m. Sunday and arrived at
Erin Hills as Kraft concluded his warmup on the
range. They cheered lustily after each won
hole and crisp shot and if Kraft walked off the
tee without incident. Another SMU player,
Buckley, advanced to the quarterfinals of the
U.S. Amateur. That’s free publicity for
new Mustangs coach Josh Gregory, who
returned to his alma mater after leading
Augusta State to back-to-back national titles.
An SMU player now has won the U.S. Amateur
three times in the past 14 years (Hank Kuehne,
1998; Colt Knost, ’07).
Lightly recruited out of high school
– he never made it out of regionals
– Kraft said he chose SMU because his
hometown of Denton was 45 minutes north of
Fort Worth. He won only one AJGA event
before beginning his freshman year.
“When I got to SMU,” he said,
“winning the U.S. Amateur probably
wasn’t a thought.”
Not that it mattered on Sunday night. His
teammates flooded into the media center and
snapped cellphone photos of the Havemeyer
Trophy, savoring a moment that was three
months in the making.