Ian Gilligan (NCGA photo)
When his pitch shot from the rough on the green of what was the 34th hole dropped in for birdie and a 2-up lead, Reno resident Ian Gilligan
let loose with a Tiger-esque fist pump.
For Gilligan, the celebratory moment was somewhat symbolic of his journey over the last seven years. Now a 19-year-old sophomore at Long Beach State, following his freshman year in high school Gilligan was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. He'd end up spending 50 days in a hospital and lost over 50 pounds.
Today, he's cancer free. And an NCGA champion, as he'd go on to defeat Bobby Bucey
3 and 1 in Friday's finals of the 119th Amateur Championship at Spyglass Hill.
"It feels good to win. I'm just so thankful to be here," said Gilligan, a former standout on the Junior Tour of Northern California. "I've put in a lot of work. I'm thankful to be able to compete against a player as great as Bobby."
Bucey, a 33-year-old member at Oakhurst CC who became the old guy in the semifinals brackets (the other three players were collegians), had been aiming to capture his sixth NCGA major title. Along with winning the California Amateur, he's won the Four-Ball title (2016), Mid-Amateur Four-Ball (2021), Stroke Play (2014) and Mid-Amateur (2017).
"It was an extremely memorable week," said Bucey, who had he won would've been the first player over the age of 30 to win since Darryl Donovan in 1999. "It hurts to get this far and fall short, but it's an experience I'll never forget."
It was also a match to remember, becoming a duel in the fog. Through the first 18 holes, neither Gilligan or Bucey ever held more than a 1-up lead. They'd head into the break all-square.
In the second half of the 36-hole finale, the two tied each of the first nine holes. On the the 28th hole (par-4 10th), Gilligan finally took a 1-up lead when Bucey's second shot clipped a tree, leading to a bogey. Bucey would later tie the match with a key birdie on the par-3 12th after he stuck his tee shot to within 3 feet of the flagstick.
The two would stay tied until the par-5 14th, where Gilligan, after just hitting long over the green in two, made a great up-and-down for birdie to beat Bucey's par. Following a halve on No.15, the tide turned when Gilligan sank his pitch from off the side of the green. Bucey, who'd gone through the green, had earlier missed his third shot.
Gilligan, the No.4 seed, sealed the match with a final birdie on 17. Through the 35 holes, Gilligan went just 1-over. That came after having already played six rounds earlier in the week.
"It was a tight match all the way to the end," Gilligan said. "All of the matches earlier in the week, I felt like I was in control. Against Bobby, I knew it was going to be tough. I just couldn't grab a lead against him."
The No.26 seeded Bucey, despite also being exhausted, never gave in.
"I can sleep well knowing I gave it everything I had," Bucey said.
ABOUT THE NCGA Match Play
The oldest of the NCGA’s major events, the Amateur
Match Play Championship, dates back to 1903 when
was first played at San Rafael GC. Varying formats
been used over the 100+ years of competition but
the tournament is 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying,
followed by a 32-person seeded match play bracket.
Pre-qualifying required for non-exempt players.
must have a handicap index of 5.4 or less.
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