The U.S. Amateur Championship Is Golf in Its Purest Form
While the eyes of the world were on Tiger Woods over the weekend at the U.S. Amateur Championship, a bunch of lesser-known golfers stole the golf world’s heart.
The performance by Steve Scott in extending Woods to 38 holes was just one of dozens of magnificent efforts in the week-long event. And many of those were put forth by players who will never get rich playing the game.
That’s part of the beauty and joy of this tournament.
The U.S. Amateur Championship is golf in its purest form. Unspoiled players. Unrestrained galleries. And unexpected heroics when least expected.
Teen-age students and middle-age businessmen bonded together by a love of the game played a magnificent tournament last week at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.
Of the 312 players who started in stroke-play qualifying at Pumpkin Ridge for the 64 match play spots, only a handful will every make a living on the PGA Tour.
That was no matter to most of them. This tournament was not about making money. It was about the love of golf and the thrill of competition.
Sure, Woods was there with his swing doctor, his psychologist and was followed nearly every step of the way by Nike CEO Phil Knight, who said he’ll do whatever it takes to sign Woods to an endorsement deal.
And judging by the number of Nike logos Tiger’s father, Earl Woods, had on his clothing, the Tiger was ready to walk out of the amateur Woods.
But Tiger Woods was an exception rather than the rule at the U.S. Amateur Championship.
An entourage for the rest of these players didn’t mean a swing doctor and a shrink, it meant _ maybe _ a family member or a girlfriend. For some, it meant being there alone.
While Woods was able to chose between psychologist Jay Brunza and his high school friend Byron Bell as his caddie _ Bell got the nod _ some of the other players early in the week had no caddies, carrying their own bags.
While Woods played in 95-degree heat dressed like a professional in long pants, the other three semifinalists played in shorts, looking very much like the college kids they were.
While Woods was followed by galleries in the thousands, others had a crowd only when a handful of fans got lost while searching for Woods and stumbled across their group.
And while it was assumed by nearly everyone that Woods was a lock to win his third consecutive U.S. Amateur Championship, that was never the assumption of the six players he defeated.
They all believed they could win, and they played that way.
From 17-year-old Charles Howell to 37-year-old Jerry Courville, they all played their hearts out and gave Woods all he could handle.
J.D. Manning, D.A. Points, Joel Kribel and Courville all took Woods through 16 holes. Howell stretched it through 17. And Scott, of course, made the 36-hole finals go two extra holes.
Those were phenomenal efforts under the circumstances. Facing the 20-year-old Woods in an amateur tournament at this stage in his career was like facing Jack Nicklaus in the early ’70s when he was at the peak of his game.
The opponent was not just a player but also a reputation.
While Woods’ every move was cheered by thousands, Scott, a 19-year-old University of Florida student, was followed by his aunt and uncle. His mother was at home, unable to make the cross-country trip after he made the finals in time for his tee off.
Scott’s bag was carried by his reed-thin girlfriend, Kristy Hummel. She looked on shyly, almost helplessly when it was slipping away for Scott, seemingly uncertain of what to do or what to say.
But in her eyes was the same admiration everyone else had for Scott, an admiration expressed when the two dozen reporters in the post-match interview room broke into applause after Scott choked back tears while describing the round.
Everyone who played Woods deserved applause, especially Howell and Kribel, who battled Woods as determinedly as Scott. All of them are teen-agers, all younger than Woods.
Woods, who won his third consecutive title, might soon have riches beyond the wildest dreams of the other 311 players in the Amateur.
But he was not the only winner at Pumpkin Ridge. All the players won and _ most of all _ so did the game of golf.