OAKMONT, Pennsylvania – Even for James Piot, the seedy Michigan kid who isn’t afraid to set the bar high, his goal in the US Amateurs on Sunday was almost bold.
He was 3 down and ran out of time.
Piot was on the 10th tee and set himself the goal of playing the back nine at 4 under par. This was as scary as any golf course in America at Oakmont, where the greens, reputedly the fastest in the country, were triple cut. More holes were won with pars than with birdies.
Piot was up to the task. He started with a 9-iron to 3 feet for birdie, won four straight holes to take the lead over Austin Greaser, and finished his stunning rally with a 20-foot par putt that gave him a 2-and-1. Victory brought.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Piot. “As an amateur, it’s the best you can do.”
Piot didn’t win a hole on the first nine that afternoon. He didn’t lose a hole on the second nine, even if he just missed his target. He was 3 under on his back.
The match ended on the reachable par-4 17 course when Piot shot out of a bunker over the smooth green and into another bunker, hauled it out to 20 feet and made it to par. Greaser’s 8-foot yardage putt to extend the match from the left lip.
“I just didn’t execute on the second nine,” said Greaser. “He did. Hats off to him – he played a great back nine. This time the cards got in his way. It’ll sting a bit.”
Piot, a 22-year-old senior at Michigan State, was bullied off the green by friends and teammates in their Spartan gear and was soon holding the Havemeyer gold trophy.
He seemed to be looking at a centuries-old list of champions, from Bobby Jones to Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods. It turned out that it wasn’t at all.
“I was trying to see if it was real or not,” said Piot. “I couldn’t believe it. I honestly thought, ‘Did I just win the US Am?’ I probably couldn’t give you a name for this thing right now. How crazy it was and how incredible it felt. ”
Maintained in a public course in Michigan called the Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center, he learned to fight by spending all day on the course with friends, devising money games, either for lunch or for each other’s golf balls.
When he arrived in the state of Michigan and his trainer encouraged Piot to make an effort to be the All-Big-Ten, Piot said that it set the bar too low. He wanted to be All-American.
And now he’s a US amateur champion.
It was a terrible loss for Greaser, a junior in North Carolina. He was 1 behind after 18 holes in the morning and won three of the first four holes in the afternoon, followed by two hard par putts to stay ahead.
With a par to take ninth place, he jumped 3 and looked hard to beat.
Piot took it over from there. His birdie at # 10 was his first since hitting 6-irons to 3 feet on the morning round on the 18th to take a 1-up lead for lunch. And then he got help from Greaser.
Both had 15-foot birdie putts on the 11th. Greaser ran past with his 6 feet and made three putts to lose another hole. On the par 5 12th, Greaser hit the 3-iron too far to the left in a bunker about 20 meters from the green. He could only get out to the front of the green, leaving him with a 70 foot putt that didn’t stop rolling until he was 20 feet away.
He put in three putti – his seventh of the championship game – and it was all clear again.
“I just felt like the whole momentum was on my side,” said Piot.
Piot won his fourth hole in a row, taking the lead with a 13-10 foot par-3 tee shot for a birdie received when Greaser found a bunker and failed to execute a 12-foot putt.
The final stroke was on the 15th, where Greaser hit the “pew” bunker down on the left, had to lie up and hit a wedge that didn’t quite cross a subtle ridge and the speed and slope of Oakmont’s infamous greens sent the ball 20 feet away for another bogey.
“It really stinks just a hair’s short,” said Greaser, playing my heart out and doing my best. “
The win puts Piot among the three professional majors next year – the Masters, the US Open at Brookline and the British Open in St. Andrews. Greaser comes second in the Masters and in the US Open.
“I still don’t think I’ll hold that trophy right now,” said Piot. “Internally, I thought I had the ability. Actually doing it is the greatest thing.”