If you like match play, and what hard-core golf fan doesn’t, then it was a great weekend of golf viewing with the Europeans playing their match-play event, the U.S. taking on Europe in the Solheim Cup and the U.S. Amateur at The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
And as riveting as the Lexi Thompson-Anna Nordqvist battle was in the leadoff match of the Solheim singles matches early Sunday, the golf gods saved the best for last, a remarkable U.S. Amateur final in which Clemson sophomore Doc Redman snatched the title away from Texas senior Doug Ghim with a stunning eagle-birdie finish that sent the match to the 37th hole, where he won the match.
Let’s face it, match play can be devoid of drama. A player gets behind, starts pressing, falls further behind and gets buried. But when you have two players performing at a high level, there’s nothing better.
That was the case Sunday. In the morning round of the scheduled 36-hole final, 15 of the 18 holes were halved.
The 21-year-old Ghim of Arlington Heights, Ill., won the first hole with a bogey. The 19-year-old Redman of Raleigh, N.C., won the 11th and the 13th with birdies. They fittingly halved the 18th with a birdie and headed for lunch with Redman, one of the survivors of a 13-man playoff for the final eight spots in match play Tuesday, holding a 1-up lead.
Redman stretched his lead to 2-up by winning the 20th hole with a birdie. But then the precise and patient Ghim, the Big 12 Player of the Year last season, just started to outgrind Redman.
Ghim, wearing the cap of his home-town Cubbies, won the 22nd hole with a birdie and the 29th with a birdie to draw even. He took a 1-up lead by winning the 31st with a par.
And when Redman, who had putted so wonderfully all day, missed an eight-footer for par on the 34th hole of the match, Ghim had one hand on the Havemeyer Trophy at 2-up with two to play.
Redman reached the par-5 17th in two and had a 60-footer for eagle. He figured he had to make it. And the left-to-right breaker tracked right into the middle of the hole. It is the kind of putt that will be talked about in reverential tones for years to come.
“All that was going through my head was about making the putt and putting a good stroke on it,” Redman told the USGA website. “Honestly, I was just going through, you know, ‘you’re going to make this, you’re going to make this,’ and it worked out well.”
His eight-footer for birdie on the 36th hole of the match, the familiar 18th at Riviera, was almost pedestrian in comparison, except he needed it just as badly as he did the one on the previous hole. He got it.
Ghim had played so well, not just in Sunday’s final, but all week long. And he finally wilted on the 37th hole when he hooked a 3-wood off the tee. He made a mess of the hole and Redman would win the title with a conceded birdie on Riviera’s 10th.
Redman joins Chris Patton, whose flawless short game enabled him to win at Merion Golf Club’s East Course in 1989, as the only Clemson players to claim a U.S. Amateur title.
I’ve been wondering all summer when exactly the USGA was going to pick the U.S. team for the Walker Cup Match, which will be contested at the nearby Los Angeles Country Club North Course Sept. 9 and 10. I knew it was going to somewhere around the U.S. Amateur, but it was pretty much a secret until late in the Fox broadcast Sunday when we were informed that the U.S. team would be revealed at the conclusion of the Redman-Ghim match.
Hey, Fox paid a lot of money for the USGA rights, you have to throw them a bone every once in a while.
I don’t think Redman was on anybody’s radar for the U.S. team when the U.S. Amateur dawned Monday at Riviera and Bel-Air Country Club. But the way he played all week, and Sunday in particular, I’m sure captain John “Spider” Miller is more than happy to have him on the team.
Ghim was probably going to make the team and he did nothing last week to change that. He will be joined on the U.S. team by fellow Texas senior Scottie Scheffler. Maybe veteran Texas coach John Fields had an inkling there might be a Longhorn or two playing in the Walker Cup when he scheduled his season opening tournament Sept. 16 to 18 at the Fighting Illini Invitational at Olympia Fields Country Club.
Think about it. Fields is going to send out a team that includes the low amateur in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Scheffler and the U.S. Amateur runnerup in Ghim. And a couple of U.S. Walker Cuppers to boot.
This is going to be a very, very strong U.S. side that will try to wrest the Walker Cup back from a Great Britain & Ireland team that spanked the U.S. pretty handily, 16 and a half to nine and a half, two years ago at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in Lancashire, England.
It is a home match for the U.S., but it’s really a home game for the veteran mid-am on the team, Stewart Hagestad, who I watched win the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship in dramatic fashion at Stonewall last summer. The 26-year-old Hagestad, the first mid-am to make the cut at the Masters, grew up playing at L.A. Country Club.
There is one holdover from the 2015 team who will be back and he might be the most talented player in red, white and blue. That would be recent Stanford grad Maverick McNealy, No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Heck, he might even get to avenge his opening-round ouster at Riviera at the hands of Connor Syme of Scotland in the Walker Cup.
As talented as McNealy is, he is, from all reports, a better person. He will be the team leader, in much the same way that Rickie Fowler led the 2009 U.S. team to victory at Merion. He was just a kid, but he was their leader, you could just see it.
The rest of the team just oozes talent. There’s 20-year-old Braden Thornberry of Olive Branch, Miss., who won the NCAA individual title at Rich Harvest Farms as a sophomore at Ole Miss last spring; California junior Collin Marikawa, a 20-year-old from La Canada Flintridge, Calif.; Oregon sophomore Norman Xiong, an 18-year-old from Canyon Lakes, Calif. who helped the Ducks reach the match-play final in the NCAA Championship; Texas A&M senior Cameron Champ, a 21-year-old from Sacramento, Calif.; and Wake Forest senior Will Zalatoris, a 21-year-old out of Plano, Texas.
The biggest beneficiary of the NCAA’s decision to go to match play to determine its team champion several years ago might very well be captain Miller. His team is very good and many of them are very good at match play.
And best of all, more match play. Can’t wait.