Perhaps Noah Woolsey
had the best summary of what was a busy day at this week’s California Amateur Championship at The Preserve Golf Club in Carmel Valley.
“Oh my gosh,” Woolsey said.
On a day featuring both the quarterfinals and semifinals where the field was whittled from eight to two, the two guys left standing are No. 2 seed Noah Woolsey (pictured, below) and No.4 seed Wes Payne
(above). Both felt the toll of playing 36 holes of pressure golf. Woolsey emerged victorious in an epic duel with good friend and No.27 seed Thomas Hutchison
via a semifinals win on the 21st hole. Payne, meanwhile, finally got past No.32 seed Tommy Stephenson
with a tight 1-up victory.
“That was incredible,” said a smiling but exhausted Woolsey. Down two through 13 holes, Woolsey, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Washington, birdied the 14th hole and later hit his approach shot to within 3 feet of the flagstick for birdie to force extra holes. On the third extra hole (the par-4 3rd), Hutchison pushed his drive so far to the right that he had to take a drop. Woolsey got on in two, and calmly sank his par putt after Hutchison missed his par try from 30 feet.
For Woolsey, who was just named to Team NCGA for the upcoming Pacific Coast Amateur Championship, it capped a remarkable comeback and somewhat of a Houdini act. Hutchison had occasions where he could’ve ended the match, but his putter didn’t cooperate. Woolsey and Hutchison have competed against each other since they were both playing in U.S. Kids Junior events. Later, they’d face off in Junior Tour of Northern California championships.
“It was a tough match for me,” said Woolsey, who earlier in the day advanced with a 3 and 2 quarterfinals win. “Thomas was hitting first so many tines off the tee, and he’s such a great ball-striker and player. I constantly felt like I had to keep up. But I kept reminding myself that I was playing well too.”
Like Woolsey, Payne also had to grind, The 31-year-old real estate agent from San Francisco was down a hole to Stephenson through 16. On the par-5 17th, Payne got one hole back with a birdie win. On the closing par-418th, with both players tied, Stephenson’s second shot landed in the rough just off the green to the left. He’d try a flop shot, but the ball never rolled after landing in the fringe, leading to a bogey. Payne had earlier had reached the green in regulation.
The last time Payne played in the California Amateur was back in 2009. He spent some time as a professional, even competing on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica circuit, but eventually regained his amateur status. Last year, he announced his return to amateur play by finishing runner-up at the NCGA Amateur at Spyglass Hill. Since then, he’s picked up wins at the Palo Alto City and Silicon Valley Amateur.
“It feels great to have reached the finals. I’ve played very consistently all week, and I’ve putted well,” Payne said. “Every round, I’ve been able to get to 2 or 3 under.”
Helping Payne along has been some recent local knowledge–and some people close to his heart. About a month ago, he advanced through a U.S.Open local qualifier at The Preserve. During the week, either his dad, Reed, or girlfriend, Kelsey, has carried his bag.
“Over the last year, I’ve played here a bunch of times, so I feel like I know the course well. You can make a lot of birdies out here, but you can also make a lot of bogeys,” said Payne, who defeated Kevin Sze 3 and 2 in the morning quarterfinals. “With my dad and Kelsey, it’s comforting having them by my side. I have my moments on the course, and they know how to help me work through it.”
Woolsey, who is making just his third California Amateur appearance, said his plan for Saturday’s finale was to just keep doing what he’s been doing—which includes not having his dad on the bag as caddie.
“I just need to keep reminding myself that I’ve played as well as anyone this week,” Woolsey said. “Just keep making birdies and do not let up.”
ABOUT THE California Amateur
The Championship is open to amateur golfers
who have established current indexes of 4.4
and are members in good standing of the
Southern California Golf Association, the
Northern California Golf Association, or the
Public Links Golf Association of Southern
California. Nonexempt players must qualify. An
entrant may play in only one qualifying event,
belongs to clubs in both Southern California
and Northern California. The 18-hole
rounds will determine the qualifiers.
The championship field will play 36 holes of
qualifying at a Northern or Southern California
Location, with the low 32 golfers from that
combined field moving on to match play (with
playoff, if necessary, to determine the final
Two rounds each of 18-hole match play will
follow on Thursday and Friday and the 36-hole
final match will be on Saturday.
The location will rotate yearly between
Northern and Southern California locations.
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