Saturday
Aug052017

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

Friday
Aug042017

Champ playing like his name

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Friday, August 4, 2017

As quarterfinal matches go, Friday’s Western Amateur showdown between Cameron Champ and Joaquin Niemann at Skokie Country Club was about as good as it gets.

Both players were in this year’s U.S. Open, with Champ finishing in a tie for 32nd.

Niemann, an 18-year-old Chilean heading into his freshman year at South Florida, is the world’s top-ranked amateur. Champ, who will be a senior at Texas A&M, could be a pro by this time next year.

Given that U.S. Walker Cup captain Spider Miller watched the competition closely, the showdown could have been for a berth on this year’s team, along with a spot in Saturday’s semifinal. It could be argued that both deserve a spot.

Miller had to be impressed with both players, but especially Champ, who showed a delicate touch chipping and uncanny accuracy putting to go with his prodigious drives.

The bomber from Sacramento dispatched the rail-thin Chilean, 3 and 2, with a mixture of all of the above, earning the right to play Doc Redman on Saturday at 8:15 a.m.

“I just grinded it out,” Champ said. “I wasn’t driving it well. Kind of squirrely.”

Champ is a tough judge. For example, take his drive on the 557-yard par-5 11th, which zigs left, then right. To mortals, this is a three-shot hole. To Champ, it’s a 381-yard belt straight over a copse of trees behind bunkers guarding the dogleg on the left side of the fairway. From there, with 176 yards to go, Champ smacked a 9-iron onto the left side of the green.

That play displayed not only his brute strength, but his smarts. Niemann, who is also silly long, hit it about 330 off the tee and poked a hybrid into the bunker guarding the right side of the green, and the hole.

Champ, saying he is “a little more aggressive” in match play compared to stroke play, aimed away from the hazard with his second, since Niemann had already found the bunker. It paid off with 40-foot two-putt birdie to Niemann’s par save, and a 3-up lead. One-up at the turn, Champ had also birdied the par-4 10th.

Niemann cut the gap to 1-down with Champ’s double-bogey of the watery 12th and his own birdie of the 13th, but could get no closer. Champ won the 13th with a birdie, hey halved the par-4 15th with birdies, Champ doing so with a flop wedge from the gunch after a 330-yard drive. Champ closed his foe out with a two-putt par on the par-3 16th.

“The 15th hole was the best hole I played all day, hitting the flop shot to 15-18 feet,” Champ said. “That was the key to the match.”

He sank his birdie putt after Niemann had rolled in a 20-footer on the same line.

For the match, Champ was 3-under, Niemann even par, with the usual concessions.

Redman came from 1-down to beat Min Woo Lee of Perth, Australia, 3 and 2.

Derek Bard, the 2015 U.S. Amateur runner-up, will play medalist Norman Xiong in the opening semifinal at 8 a.m.. Bard scored a 2 and 1 victory over Nick Voke of Auckland, New Zealand in a match with only five halved holes to move on, while Xiong, of Canyon Lake, Calif., was forced to the 18th hole by Brendon Jelley before his matching bogey was good enough for a 1-up victory. Xiong’s birdie on the par-4 17th was the difference.

Tim Cronin

Friday
Aug042017

Hardy falls in Western Amateur Round of 16

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Friday, August 4, 2017

It was a morning for hot chocolate, hand warmers and surprises in the 115th Western Amateur’s Round of 16 at Skokie Country Club.

Down went Nick Hardy, the local favorite, 7 and 5 to Min Woo Lee of Perth, Australia, whose home is 10,945 miles from Glencoe.

Down went Ruben Sondjaha, falling 4 and 3 to Derek Bard, who was runner up to Bryson DeChambeau in the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields.

Down went Brad Dalke, whose solid play put Oklahoma over the top at the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms. He lost 2 and 1 to Joaquin Niemann, the 18-year-old from Santiago, Chile. Niemann rallied to win the 17th hole with a birdie after squandering most of a 5-up lead by losing four straight holes.

However, medalist Norman Xiong of Canyon Lake, Calif., came through, scoring a 3 and 2 victory over 2015 champion Dawson Armstrong of Brentwood, Tenn.

In other matches:

• Long-hitting Cameron Champ of Sacramento, Calif., took the measure of Lee Hodges of Elkmont, Ala., 3 and 2.

• In the battle for the Southern Cross, Nike Voke of Auckland, New Zealand knocked off Dylan Perry of Aberdeen, Australia, 5 and 4.

• Doc Redman of Raleigh, N.C., scored a 1-up victory over William Gordon of Davidson, N.C., sinking a 30-footer for birdie from off the green after being 2 down with seven holes to play.

• Brendon Jelley of Tulsa, Okla., beat John Pak of Scotch Plains, N.J., 2 up.

The loss of Hardy, the Northbrook lad entering his senior year at Illinois, eliminated the last local player from the festivities. He fell by the largest margin in any round since Nathan Smith dropped Chad Poling, 7 and 6, in the 2004 Round of 16.

Lee birdied the first extra hole (Skokie’s par-3 ninth) Friday morning to advance to the Sweet Sixteen; Niemann and Armstrong advanced with pars on the second extra hole (the par-4 first), eliminating Mason Overstreet, who bogeyed.

The quarterfinal pairings:

Xiong vs. Pak; Yoke vs. Bard; Niemann vs. Champ; Lee vs. Redman.

Tim Cronin

Thursday
Aug032017

Xiong zips his way to Western Am medal

Writing from Glencoe, Illinois

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ruben Sondjaja’s day at Skokie Country Club started at around 7:30 a.m. It ended at 8:15 p.m., when he finished the 36th hole of a grind that saw him fall from the lead to a tie for third place in the Western Amateur’s stroke-play qualifying with an ignominious quadruple bogey 8.

The Australian properly took the long view.

“I’m in the Sweet Sixteen,” he said. “That’s where you want to be. From here, it’s game on.”

Exactly. In fact, he tied for third with Northbrook’s Nick Hardy and Nick Voke of Auckland, New Zealand, three strokes behind medalist Norman Xiong of Canyon Lake, Calif., whose astonishing 66-65 on Thursday at Skokie Country Club for a 72-hole aggregate of 14-under-par 270 means only that he’ll get a better seed when match play commences on Saturday morning.

It won’t happen until after a four-for-three playoff takes place at 7 a.m. to determine the 14th, 15th and 16th qualifiers. Two thunderstorm delays totaling 2 hours 21 minutes shoved the proceedings back enough that Sondjaja and Brad Dalke, the last pair, finished eight minutes past sunset. Much of their last two hours was spent in the rain, a few minutes of it in a blinding downpour. 

“It was tough,” Songjaja said. “It was physically tough and mentally demanding too, with all the starts and rain delays. It’s very hard to your mind in a position to compete.”

He holed out from a bunker on the par-4 17th to jump back to 15-under after a bogey on the 16th, but yanked his tee shot out of bounds at the 18th, which is playing as a 646-yard uphill par-4 this week, and then pulled his next tee shot barely out of bounds as well. He finally found the fairway with his fifth shot and scrambled to an 8.

“I had a few faults at the end, unfortunately,” Sondjana said. He also doubled 18 in the morning round, so his 6-over performance on Skokie’s toughest hole cost him dearly when it came to grabbing the medalist’s trophy.

As he said, the more important one remains. After the equivalent of a PGA Tour weekend, compressed into three days, now the hard work begins: four rounds of match play across two days for the finalists.

Xiong moved to the front from the back half of the field, finishing on the par-3 ninth hole in each round. He’s made 21 birdies and two eagles in four rounds – he’s 5-under on the par-5 seventh – and was 15-under in his last 54 holes after opening with a 1-over 72.

“I think there was a glimpse of it, but my goal was to just get into the Sweet Sixteen,” Xiong said of winning the qualifying medal. “I knew if I just played my game, I could get in there pretty solidly. Things got hot with my putter in the beginning of both rounds, and things went my way.”

He opened the final round with four straight birdies, and closed with birdies on the Nos. 3, 6 and 7. Then he waited, and when Sondjaja’s tee shots went haywire at the 18th, Xiong ascended to the top.

Xiong will play the No. 16 qualifier, whoever that is, from the quartet doing battle in the morning.

Around the greens

Hardy, the Illinois senior with the local following, was the only player with four rounds in the 60s (69-68-67-69). ... There wasn’t a great surprise in seeing Tony Romo miss the cut after rounds of 80-82. The surprise was that he was slapped with a one-stroke penalty for slow play. The WGA has timing stations are various points of the course, and Romo was late enough to get hit with the extra stroke.

Tim Cronin

Wednesday
Jul192017

Farnsworth captures Illinois Women's Open

Writing from Romeoville, Illinois

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mistwood Golf Club goes all out for the Phil Kosin Illinois Women’s Open, its signature event. That includes live scoring online and a crew manning leader boards on the course.

All of which was superfluous to Alexandra Farnsworth of Nashville, Tenn.

“There’s a lot of leader boards out here, I really focused on not looking at them, and I really think it paid off,” Farnsworth said Wednesday.

By staying in her own world, the Vanderbilt senior managed to fire a 5-under-par 67 to win the 23rd IWO, finishing at 8-under 208 and beating fellow amateur Hannah Kim of Northwestern and Chula Vista, Calif., by two strokes. Pros Vivian Tsui of Canada and Samantha Postillion of Scottsdale, Ariz., who grew up in Hinsdale, tied for third at 5-under 211, and split first and second money to collect $4,250 each.

Addison’s Dana Gattone, heading into her senior year at Illinois, was the low Illinois resident, scoring 1-under 71 for 2-under 214.

Farnsworth, two strokes behind 36-hole leader Tsui, was in the penultimate group, which played into her hands.

“I like coming from behind, and it was definitely a help to myself,” Farnsworth said. “It made me focus on myself. I could kind of tell (she was leading) because of the group of carts around us.”

Farnsworth scored six birdies, offset by a bogey on the par-3 14th. But she birdied the holes before and after to get to 8-under, while Kim birdied the 15th and 17th after her bogey on the 14th.

Kim went out in 3-under 33, but a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 10th put her into catch-up mode. She scored 2-under 70 for 6-under 210.

“That created a mental block for me,” Kim said of the double-bogey. “It was hard for me to get back to getting birdies. I just tried to play my game and get the putts rolling in again.”

Farnsworth had been winless in college play, and hadn’t hoisted a trophy since high school. She said she put more pressure on herself than she should have last year, thinking she had to hit certain scoring standards to realistically have a shot when she turns pro. That changed a few weeks ago after talking with friends.

“This breakthrough really, really means a lot to me,” Farnsworth said. “It’s frustrating being in the hunt a lot and not being able to pull through. I think I’ve learned from experience to focus on myself, don’t worry about the other people, and that really helped.

“I’m fully back to enjoying the game again.”

Postillion’s check was the biggest of her young career. She bogeyed the 14th and 15th holes, but birdied the par-3 17th to score 2-under 70 and get back into the tie with Tsui for low pro. Tsui also bogeyed the 14th, but played the last four holes in each par to finish at 72 for 211.

“For the most part, I handled the adrenalin well,” Postillion said. “Other than one hole today (the 15th, a sculled chip), I played a lot of great golf. I was never too worried about making bogeys and I was always patient about making birdies. It did not feel like a grind.”

Tim Cronin

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