Western Amateur: Kazuma Kabori is second Kiwi to win the title
Western GA photo
Western GA photo

Kazuma Kobori, a 21-year-old from New Zealand, stood on the final hole of the 121st Western Amateur and looked around to see the 18th green of North Shore Country Club entirely surrounded by fans.

The crowd that turned out to the Glenview, Illinois, club Saturday had witnessed a back-and-forth battle between two international standouts, and Kobori was about to give them one more highlight.

Sitting 1 up over Christiaan Maas, of South Africa, Kobori surveyed a 15-foot birdie putt that would put an end to a weeklong pursuit of the George R. Thorne Trophy.

“I just gave it a shot, and then it started to dribble toward the hole,” Kobori said. “It stayed online, and with a foot to go I knew it was going in. To win a tournament that I only thought I could be a small part of is an incredible feeling.”

Kobori walked the putt into the hole and pumped his fist in the air, celebrating the second win for a Kiwi in golf’s third oldest amateur championship, joining 2008 champion Danny Lee.

In the first Western Amateur final between two players from the southern hemisphere, Maas made it far from easy for Kobori.

Starting on No. 2, it appeared Kobori would jump to an early lead when Maas’ second shot bounced into the hedges left of the green. After Maas punched into a greenside bunker, the Texas sophomore hit one of the top shots of the championship, holing out for a miracle birdie.

Unphased, Kobori drained a birdie of his own, curling in a 25-foot putt to match Maas’ highlight.

“I just had a weird feeling he was going to hole it,” Kobori said. “Christiaan just played unbelievable. If he beat me with some unbelievable golf shots I can live with it, but I knew I had to play my game of golf and give it my all.”

Kobori would go on to win Nos. 3 and 4 before Maas fought back to go 1 up through 10 holes. Kobori brought the match back to even with a birdie on a stellar up-and-down from a deep greenside bunker on No. 12.

After Maas’ tee shot on No. 17 settled behind a tree, Kobori took full advantage of the opportunity by making par to go 1 up heading into the final hole.

“It was kind of all a blur there,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking about anything going into the last.”

Kobori promptly hit his ninth fairway of the match and lofted a wedge onto the green, setting up the championship-clinching putt.

That moment was set up, in part, by an advantage Kobori gained in the morning.

Kobori started his day by dispatching reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matthew McClean, of Northern Ireland, by a 6 and 5 margin. The dominant semifinal victory not only sparked momentum for the afternoon but also gave Kobori an opportunity to rest while Maas continued for another hour in his 3 and 2 defeat of Drew Goodman.

“With the practice rounds, I played about 10 rounds of golf across the week,” Kobori said. “Just taking some time to get some rest helped me feel great in the afternoon.”

While physical endurance is paramount in navigating North Shore for a tenth time, mental resilience is also of upmost importance in amateur golf’s most grueling test. For Kobori, his caddie made all the difference.

John Hammond, Kobori’s host for the week jumped on the bag to lighten the load and offer an experienced perspective of North Shore. Hammond, 44, caddied at the club through high school and has played the golf course as a member for the past five years.

“Regardless of how I played, I know I wouldn’t have won this without him,” Kobori said. “I had already played in every Elite Amateur Series event this summer, so physically I wouldn’t have been able to do this without him. I’m so happy that he helped.”

With the Western Amateur win, Kobori vaulted to the top of the Elite Amateur Cup standings, earning the season-long title and exemptions into the PGA TOUR’s Bermuda Championship and two Korn Ferry Tour events next season.

“I hadn’t won a tournament in the U.S. and actually missed almost every cut in the Elite Amateur Series last year,” Kobori said. “I made every cut this year, and to finish it off with a win is just incredible.”

Results: Western Amateur
WinNew ZealandKazuma KoboriNew Zealand150069-69-72-65=275
Runner-upSouth AfricaChristiaan MaasSouth Africa120065-72-69-69=275
SemifinalsOKDrew GoodmanNorman, OK90066-74-66-65=271
SemifinalsNorthern IrelandMatthew McCleanNorthern Ireland90069-68-64-71=272
QuarterfinalsALNick DunlapHuntsville, AL70069-70-67-66=272

View full results for Western Amateur

ABOUT THE Western Amateur

Invitational event, and the most important tournament in American amateur golf outside of the U.S. Amateur. With a grueling schedule, it's quite possibly the hardest amateur tournament to win.

156 invited players come from across the globe to play one of the toughest formats in amateur golf. The tournament starts with 18 holes of stroke play on Tuesday and Wednesday after which the field is cut to the low 44 scores and ties. Thursday it's a long day of 36 holes of stroke play to determine the “Sweet Sixteen” who compete at Match Play on Friday and Saturday (two matches each day if you're going to the finals) to decide the champion.

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