Beau Breault (GAM photo)
The 108th Michigan Amateur Championship is down to four golfers and two compelling semifinal matches.
It will be the defending champion Beau Breault of Highland against this year’s top seed and qualifying medalist Ben Smith of Novi in the first one at 8 a.m. Saturday, and two former Grosse Pointe South High School teammates and fellow Country Club of Detroit junior club champions, Patrick Sullivan and Coalter Smith, in the second at 8:15.
The four golfers each won round of 16 and quarterfinal matches Friday in the state championship being presented by Carl’s Golfland at Oakland Hills Country Club’s North Course. The two winners Saturday morning will square off in the afternoon for the championship and a spot for their name on the historic Staghorn Trophy.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Coalter Smith, who is not related to Ben Smith, just graduated from high school and was high school teammates for three years with Sullivan, who just finished his freshman year as a University of Michigan golfer.
“We were talking earlier when we both made it to match play about how far we needed to make it to play each other. We realized pretty far.”
Coalter Smith earned the pretty far final spot in the semifinals by turning back Scott Strickland, an Oakland Hills Country Club member and former GAM champion and GAM Mid-Amateur champion, 3 and 1 in their afternoon quarterfinal match. Strickland was 3-up in the match at one point, but Smith birdied four consecutive holes (Nos. 11-14) to turn the match in his favor.
“I started hitting the pretty close and giving myself good looks at birdies, and then making them,” he said. “I was a little surprised because I really haven’t been making many birdies. Scott was playing well and I wasn’t making birdies on the front nine, and I needed to make something happen.”
Smith’s birdie stretch included a 10-foot putt on No. 11, a 3-foot putt on 12, a 15-foot putt on No. 13 and a 25-footer on No. 14.
“I finally started playing like I was earlier in the year,” said Smith, who had to go 19 holes in his morning round of 16 match to turn back Cal Wollack of Saline. “I hope to keep it going. (Sullivan) and I are really good friends. We are at the same club; we were on the same team for three years and we played junior golf together.”
Sullivan, who played No. 1 while Smith played No. 2 at Grosse Pointe South, said it will be great to play Smith.
“It makes it even more fun,” he said. “It will also make it harder in a way. I just want to stick with my game plan, and hopefully it works out.”
Sullivan, a former Michigan Junior Amateur champion and now a Michigan Wolverine, toppled two Michigan State Spartans to get to the final four. He turned back Dan Ellis of Lansing, the assistant men’s golf coach at MSU in the morning, 3 and 2, and then traded birdies with MSU standout Andrew Walker of Battle Creek before winning the last two holes for a 2-up win in the quarterfinal match.
“It was an awesome match with Andrew,” he said. “I played well, hit it really well and made some good putts, and Andrew played great. I had to match some birdies, which was tough. I think I bogeyed 11 and that was the last bogey either of us made until we got to 17.”
At 17 and the match tied, Walker’s approach shot landed near the hole location, but spun off the downhill front edge of the green. Walker’s first attempt from about 20 yards off the green and 30 yards from the pin with a putter came up short and rolled back as well. Sullivan, who had missed the fairway wide left and hit his approach into a greenside bunker, ended up winning the hole with a bogey-5. Then he made a 12-foot birdie putt to win the 18th hole as well.
“Andrew messed up at 17 and you hate to see that,” Sullivan said. “He had the momentum and somehow that first shot spun off the green.”
Ben Smith, a Georgia Tech golfer, is in the semifinals for the second consecutive year.
He topped Ian Martin, a University of Michigan golfer 4 and 2 in the round of 16 and then held off 43-year-old Tom Stevens of Northville 3 and 2 in the afternoon quarterfinal.
“This afternoon’s match was a really good match,” Smith said. “Tom and I were trading birdies and in position to make birdies on most holes. I hit it by him like 60 or 70 yards most holes, but he hits his long irons great and he hit a hybrid into a couple holes on a rope right at the stick. He was pretty impressive. On the first hole of the day I hit 3-wood in front of the green and putted it up there to about a foot, and he hit his tee shot to about 60 yards from the green and then hit it to about 30 feet and drained the putt. We birdied the hole in two very different ways, so I figured out from that it wasn’t going to be easy to beat him.”
Smith, a two-time Michigan Junior Amateur champion, lost in last year’s semifinals to eventual runner-up Anthony Sorentino and didn’t get the chance to meet Breault, who went on to win the championship. He said he has never played against Breault in match play, but knows he is a great player.
“The goal is to win, and I’m sure it is his, too,” he said. “I didn’t have as good a day ball-striking today as I did yesterday so I’m headed to the range to work on some things. I’ll try to get ready, and just keep taking it one match at a time.”
Breault, who recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University, said was a little disappointed with losing a big lead in his 2 and 1 quarterfinal win over Mike Busse of Rochester Hills and Austin Peay University, but excited for the Saturday and the semifinals.
“I played really solid for the first 14 holes, and then when I was trying to close Mike out, I made some bogeys and he put the pressure on me,” he said. “He drove the green on 15 and made a really good birdie on 16. He made it tough on me.”
Breault, who topped University of Detroit Mercy golfer Scott Sparks of Shelby Township 5 and 4 in the round of 16, said he is feeling better about his putting.
“I was not putting well at the start of the week, but today I made a few putts,” he said.
He also noted Baker Stevenson, his best friend and the golfer he had to beat in the round of 32 Thursday, is back as his caddie. Stevenson carried his clubs a year ago when Breault claimed the championship at Country Club of Detroit.
“Everyone, if they made it this far, is a good player,” he said. “I haven’t played Ben, but I’ve heard about him and know he is really good. I will try to reset tonight, get rest and be fresh for tomorrow. It’s going to be another big day.”