Xiong outlasts Redman in 22-hole Western Am final

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Between them, Norman Xiong and Doc Redman may well win over $100 million on the pro tour. They’re that talented, and there’s that much money out there.

None of that lucre will be able to supplant the memory of their championship match for the Western Amateur crown on Saturday afternoon at Skokie Country Club. Xiong’s par on the fourth extra hole proved the difference in the longest overtime of the 115 championship matches.

“It could have gone either way,” Xiong said. “It was solid golf. To win this tournament, it’s such a long battle, stroke play followed by match play.”

“There were massive swings, and I guess I just slowly got momentum back on the back,” said Redman, who was 4 down at the turn but squared the match on the 17th and nearly won it twice after that.

Played before a gallery that reached 600 at some points, the match was replete with splendid shots, long putts falling in, and a few that edged the cup. Both players felt both the pressure of playing for the second-oldest title in American amateur golf, and experienced the joy of being in the middle of the battle.

It was 19-year-old Redman’s uncharacteristically short drive on the 22nd hole, Skokie’s fourth, a 441-yard test, that undid him. The duo had matched pars on the first two holes – Xiong lipping out a potential winner on the 19th and Redman lipping out a winning putt for the second time in three holes on the 20th – and traded birdies on the par-5 third, Xiong sinking his from 18 feet. Now Redman had 173 yards remaining from the left edge of the carpet-like fairway. Xiong was 49 yards ahead of him on the same line, with a greenside bunker threatening both.

“It was an in-between yardage for me, and I was trying to hit a draw, which I’m not very good at, and it didn’t work out well,” Redman said, revealing perhaps the only flaw in his game.

The shot ended up two feet short of the green on the right side, with the cup sitting on a ledge back left. He was over 100 feet away, while Xiong dropped his approach 12 feet away.

Redman was still 12 feet short on his first putt, and after Xiong rolled his birdie attempt close, Redman missed, ending a dramatic duel.

“I don’t think I really made anything today, in this match or the first (semifinal) match,” Redman said. “But I’m not complaining. It was awesome to be out there and compete. Everyone loved it. I loved it.”

Xiong, an 18-year-old from Canyon Lake, Calif., entering his sophomore year at Oregon, became the 25th medalist to also win the championship, and the 13th to do so in the Sweet Sixteen era.

No Western Amateur final match had ever gone three extra holes, much less four. But Redman, reeling after Xiong went out in 3-under 32 to put him 4 down at the turn, battled like a tiger, Clemson sophomore or otherwise. Still 3 down with four holes to play, Redman won the 15th with a birdie and the next two holes via Xiong bogeys, squaring the match on the 17th green when Xiong conceded a par putt of about three feet after missing his own par putt. The gallery, having seen Xiong concede a 2 1/2-footer on the previous hole, gasped before dashing to the 18th tee.

“They weren’t too long,” Xiong said. “They were simple putts. I don’t someone would miss them, and if they did, I don’t want to win a hole like that.”

“It was very nice of him,” Redman said. “That showed the whole day. We don’t want to win on gimmicks. We want to play great golf.”

Redman lipped out a 20-foot putt on the 18th hole for the victory, then conceded Xiong’s four-footer, a return act of sportsmanship that sent the match to the 19th hole.

“That was tough,” Redman said of his miss. “It was a great putt, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

“It was super nice of him to give me that putt,” Xiong said. “It was longer than any putt I gave him. I think he was the only guy in the field who’d do that.”

The turnaround came about when Xiong’s accuracy on approaches wavered and Redman’s became sharper. Xiong hit every green in regulation on the front side and was 3-under. Redman, after hitting only six greens in regulation on the front, hit all nine in regulation on the back and was rewarded with a 4-under score. Both hit three of four in extra holes, but the one Redman missed was costly.

“I got off to a really bad start the first few holes, but I knew I was still playing really well and if I could play how I had, maybe I could get a few holes back,” Redman said. “I did. I stuck to my game plan, never pushed anything. I think we both played great.”

Redman was 5-under across 16 holes in his 3 and 2 semifinal victory over Cameron Champ, while Xiong had to come back from 2 down with seven holes to play to oust Derek Bard, 2 and 1. He did so by making only one birdie down the stretch, with Bard bogeying the 12th, 13th and 17th holes, the last to give away the match.

Both Xiong and Redman are in the U.S. Amateur at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., in a fortnight, while each hopes to make the USGA’s Walker Cup team. Xiong said he’d lunched twice with U.S. captain Spider Miller over the course of the week. Redman is more of a longshot, but he had plenty to take away from playing eight rounds in five days,”

“I played awesome in stroke play, and that’s very encouraging,” Redman said. “To hang tough and beat some really good players here, and then to hang tough and come back from 4-down against Norman, I’m right up there with the best of ‘em." 

Around Skokie

The title match was not only the longest in history – no other championship test had gone more than two extra holes – but matched the fifth-longest of any round since the move to 18-hole matches in 1961. It was the 13th championship match, and second in three years, to go to extra holes. ... Including concessions, Xiong was 5-under over 22 holes, Redman 3-under. ... Doc is Redman’s given name, and he said he wasn’t named after anyone in his family. ... Each finalist played 145 holes, 73 in match play. ... The gallery of some 600 for the championship match was the largest since the Western Am returned to courses in the immediate Chicago area in 2009. They accorded Xiong and Redman a long ovation at the end of the match. ... Crowds for stroke play – mostly following CBS announcer and erstwhile Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo – were also strong, and even the galleries for Friday’s matches were healthy. ... Next year’s Western Amateur is at Sunset Ridge Country Club, about three miles away, followed by Point O Woods in 2019, Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind., in 2020, and the Glen View Club in 2021.

Tim Cronin

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