James Piot. Photo: Michigan State Athletics
, of Vandalia, Ohio, and James Piot
, of Canton, Mich., posted convincing semifinal victories on Saturday to move into Sunday’s 36-hole final of the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont Country Club.
Greaser, 20, a junior at the University of North Carolina and the No. 24 seed, won four consecutive holes starting at No. 11 to take a 3-up lead in his match against No. 4 seed Travis Vick
, 21, of Houston, Texas. A couple of errant shots by Greaser led to losses on Nos. 15 and 16 to solid pars by Vick, but after Vick missed his par putt on No. 17, he conceded his opponent’s short birdie putt and the match, 2 and 1.
Austin Greaser, Photo credit: Chris Keane, USGA
“I got some putts to fall,” said Greaser, who was a quarterfinalist in the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur at Inverness Club. “He maybe made a mistake or two, just kind of missed it, and I was able to capitalize. But that’s what you’ve got to do out here at Oakmont. Just got to plug your way along and wait until you get a couple things to fall your way, make a couple putts, and just hope it falls your way the rest of the time.”
Piot, 22, a fifth-year senior at Michigan State, broke away from Nick Gabrelcik
, 19, of Trinity, Fla., in similar fashion, winning holes 9 through 11 to take charge of the match. Gabrelcik was unable to convert birdie chances on Nos. 13 and 14 to cut into his deficit, and Piot sank a 15-foot par putt on No. 15 to Gabrelcik’s bogey to close out the match, 4 and 3.
“I had about a 15-footer [for birdie on No. 11],” said Piot, the No. 31 seed after being the No. 2 seed in 2020, his first start in this championship. “I just dropped it in to the front edge, and from there I just knew, hold on, make some pars, and at this course it’s tough to get it back with birdies if someone is parring out every hole.”
At No. 28 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Gabrelcik was the highest-ranked player among the semifinalists, and he won the Phil Mickelson Award as the nation’s top freshman player after three victories at the University of North Florida. The match was tied through eight holes, but Gabrelcik struggled with his ball-striking, bogeying Nos. 9 and 10 and losing to Piot’s birdie on No. 11.
Greaser, who won the 2020 Ohio Amateur Championship, had a large contingent of family and friends who made the four-hour drive from the Dayton area. He scrambled for pars to halve the first two holes, then lost No. 3 to Vick’s 30-foot birdie. The wild match featured just one more halved hole (they both bogeyed the par-3 eighth), and no one led by more than one until Vick missed the green on the par-3 13th for a bogey to go 2 down.
“It definitely was not my ‘A game’ out there; I was struggling in pretty much every facet of the game,” said Vick, a junior at the University of Texas. “Looking at the week and totality, I would say it’s a tremendous success, but as of right now I’m definitely disappointed.”
Greaser made a birdie on the par-5 12th to go 1 up, then made a solid par on the par-3 13th to go 2 up as Vick missed the green to the right with an 8-iron. Greaser added an impressive two-putt birdie after driving the green on the 340-yard 14th hole, going 3 up when Vick failed to get up and down from deep rough to the left of the green.
The championship match will begin at 9 a.m. EDT on Sunday, and the second round of the 36-hole match is tentatively scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Golf Channel will broadcast the match from 3-4 p.m. EDT and NBC will broadcast the match from 4-6 p.m. EDT.
The champion receives a gold medal, custody of the Havemeyer Trophy for one year, an exemption into the 2022 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., a berth in the 2022 Open Championship at St. Andrews, and a 10-year exemption in the U.S. Amateur. The champion and runner-up receive likely exemptions into the 2022 Masters Tournament and the runner-up earns entry into the 2022 U.S. Open as well as a three-year exemption into the U.S. Amateur.
With both finalists from the United States, there will be three consecutive American champions in the U.S. Amateur for just the second time since 2003. Andy Ogletree and Tyler Strafaci, both of Georgia Tech, won the past two years. The last time it happened was in 2010, 2011 and 2012, when Peter Uihlein, Kelly Kraft and Steven Fox won.
Austin Greaser has yet to play the 18th hole yet in his five matches. Since 2010, three previous players entered the championship final without playing No. 18 in their first five victories. All of them – Matthew Fitzpatrick (2013), Bryson DeChambeau (2015) and Viktor Hovland (2018) – went on to convincing wins in the final.
Greaser’s caddie this week is Carter Pitcairn, an Oakmont Country Club caddie and a senior at Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School. James Piot’s caddie is Dan Ellis, the associate head coach at Michigan State, who has played in five USGA championships, most recently the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
Nick Gabrelcik’s parents, Don and Annette, grew up in the Pittsburgh area, and Nick is a diehard fan of Pittsburgh pro teams. His older brother, Donnie, 24, caddied for him this week.
Austin Greaser is seeking to become the first golfer from the University of North Carolina to win the U.S. Amateur since Harvie Ward. The renowned career amateur, who had top 10 finishes in both the U.S. Open and the Masters Tournament, captured back-to-back U.S. Amateurs in 1955 and 1956, at age 29 and 30.
James Piot is seeking to become the first Big Ten golfer to win the U.S. Amateur during his college career since John Cook, of Ohio State, in 1978. Matthew Fitzpatrick, who won in 2013, had not yet started school at Northwestern University; John Harris, a University of Minnesota alumnus, was age 41 when he won the Amateur in 1993.
“Definitely a couple nervous swings, but it’s a new atmosphere for me and I’m trying to still learn and get comfortable with something like this. So it’s OK, and I think I’ll be a little bit more ready for it tomorrow. But I don’t think I’m ever going to feel not nervous when it’s – you got this much on the line.” – Austin Greaser, on the stakes of the matches at this stage
“I would definitely say my iron game has gotten better, a lot more consistent. I feel like I’ve always been a great driver as far as hitting fairways, but my irons have been a lot better where my misses have been smaller. And the putter has been a lot better to me this year, as far as speed control and being able to keep momentum and good rounds going.” – James Piot, on recent improvements in his game
“I think it was really cool to play in an atmosphere like that. Never done that before. I was asking, and they thought there were about a thousand people following our group, plus it was on television, so that was really neat, just to be here and be competing.” – Travis Vick, on the atmosphere at Oakmont on Saturday
“I felt a little bit more pressure [today]. I tried not to focus as much on the exemptions or what I could have gotten from this week. I think maybe I did a little too much and got a little antsy, I would say. That’s just something I’ll learn and get better at in it the future.” – Nick Gabrelcik, on his struggles in the semifinals
“You always want a good battle in golf. It definitely felt like there wasn’t as much pressure as previous matches where he seemed like he was a little out of sync with the putter and definitely took some stress off my shoulders.” – James Piot, on the semifinal match