Braden Thornberry: NCAA Champion, T-4 on the PGA Tour
and now a Sunnehanna champion (AmateurGolf.com photo)
by Yianni Gogonas, AmateurGolf.com
JOHNSTOWN, PA (June 17, 2017) - Seventy-two holes were not enough to produce a decisive winner at the Sunnehanna Amateur on Saturday.
As regulation play came to a close, last year's champion, Collin Morikawa, and reigning NCAA champion Braden Thornberry, sat atop the leaderboard at 13-under-par.
Nick Voke, and Zachary Bauchou, playing in the final group behind Morikiawa and Thornberry, both had chances to join the playoff -- Voke needing a par on the 373-yard par 4 and Bauchou needing a birdie.
With 54-hole leader Shintaro Ban (40-34=74) having struggled from the get-go, it was up to Bauchou or Voke. And Voke, at 13-under after a birdie on No. 17, looked to be the one who could make something happen on the 18th, maybe winning it all with a birdie. After he knocked his approach onto the green, the stage was set. Clubhouse leaders, as we so often see on TV, can only sit and watch.
"I was a little nervous," offered Thornberry about his feeling as he watched New Zealander Voke putting on the final green. "Your hopes could be gone right there. He is a great player...I obviously wasn't hoping against him, but I wanted another chance in the playoff."
Voke missed his birdie chance on the 18th for the win as well as the subsequent five-foot par putt coming back to end his chances of winning the prestigious Sunnehanna title.
Morikawa (the defending champ) and Thornberry (fresh off a T4 at the PGA Tour's Fedex St. Jude Classic) were promptly escorted to the first tee where they would begin a three-hole aggregate playoff.
Thornberry had the tee.
The Ole Miss standout, who won the NCAA Individual title in May, used his southern humor to lighten the moment.
"I'll go over y'all if you want," he said to a group of misbehaving fans in the fairway on the first hole.
The fairway cleared and the pair proceeded, neither player giving the other an inch. A couple of pars later and the two had reached the par-3 7th tee, which was chosen as the third hole of the playoff.
Thornberry and Morikawa both missed the seventh green with their tee shots. Morikawa put his ball short on the left, a much easier leave than Thornberry's, who hit his tee shot in a very tough spot, long and right of the green.
Braden Thornberry was first to play and hit a beautiful flop-shot to twenty-feet.
"The rain helped me a little bit, making the rough a little wetter and the green a little softer, and I happened to hit the perfect pitch."
Morikawa would pitch from a slightly easier angle, still rolling it by the hole and leaving himself 18-feet for his par.
First to putt, Thornberry rolled his 20-footer right into the heart of the cup. Morikawa was not able to match, and in the pouring rain on Saturday afternoon, play at the Sunnehanna Amateur had finally concluded.
"It was just me against Braden in a three-hole playoff. Once I saw his tee shot on the last one I knew if I got in a good position, I would be fine. But once again, chipping. I wasn't able to get up and down, so that kinda hurt."
Morikawa had to give up his title, but not without a heck of a fight.
"You're coming in every week trying to win the tournament." explained Thornberry when asked about his final putt, "You hit somewhere around 270 shots a week and for that one to be the last one was a good feeling."
It was by no accident that Thornberry found himself in a playoff this afternoon. He played very consistently throughout the championship, warming up with rounds of 68 and 69 on Wednesday, then lighting up the weekend with consecutive rounds of 65.
"(I was) just trying to stay patient, knowing that everyone is going to be frustrated with the pins," said Thornberry. "I played with Collin all day and we are good friends, so I kinda just went out there and let the better man win. It wasn't that nerve-wracking"
His lack of nerves might have something to do with his excellent finish on the PGA Tour last weekend, though Thornberry did joke that the talent level at Sunnehanna this weekend might be higher than at last week's St. Jude.
Thornberry gets another crack at a PGA Tour event on July 6 at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.
ABOUT THE Sunnehanna Amateur
The Sunnehanna Amateur was inaugurated in
1954 -- it was the first country club
sponsored 72-hole stroke play competition for
in the United States. The
tournament is played on a classic A.W.
design. Only one other amateur
tournament in the United States can list the
Chick Evans, Arnold Palmer, Julius
Boros, Art Wall, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson,
Woods, and Rickie Fowler as
contestants: the United States Amateur. Its
format has been emulated by
countless amateur tournaments across the
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