Major Comebacks: The Top 10

Johnny Miller and Steve Elkington: Classic Swings and Historic Major Comebacks

Number 10: 2012 Open Championship– Ernie Els

Ernie Els was 42 years old back in 2012, and it had been ten years since he won The Open in 2002. He had missed the cut in 3 of the 4 major championships in 2011, with only a single Top 10 finish on the PGA Tour in 21 starts. And although Els recorded 5 consecutive Top-10’s at Augusta National from 2000 through 2005 (including 2 runner-up finishes), he had dropped out of the top 50 in the World Golf Rankings, and The Masters Committee declined to offer him a special exemption—so he missed the Masters for the first time in 17 years.

As the sting of missing The Masters receded, Ernie’s game began to get in gear with a runner-up at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April, and he started looking very much like the Els of old with a Top 10 at the U.S. Open in June at the Olympic Club.

The 2012 Open was played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club, and Ernie got off to a solid start with a 67 in the first round—but Adam Scott fired a brilliant 64 and he was 3 shots off the lead. Els continued to play well in the second and third rounds to stand at 5 under, but Adam was playing even better, and as the final round got under way on Sunday Scott had opened up a 6-shot lead.

It didn’t get any better for Ernie through the first 9 on Sunday as he posted a 2 over 37, including a bogey at the ninth, and Scott’s lead remained at 6 shots going to the back—with seemingly little hope that Els would lift the Claret Jug for a second time.

Although Ernie got hot and birdied 3 out of the first 5 holes on the back nine, he still trailed Scott by 4 with only 4 holes to play. But anything can happen down the stretch at an Open Championship.

Scott struggled on the closing holes, finishing with 4 consecutive bogies to finish at 6 under. Els made par at 15, 16 and 17, and then hammered a perfect tee shot down the middle on the last. After a crisp wedge that came down 20 feet from the pin, Ernie drilled the putt for birdie to shoot 31 on the back and a 68, posting 7 under to become the 2012 Champion Golfer in one of the greatest comeback victories of all time.

Ernie Els: 2012 Open Championship

Number 9: 1995 PGA Championship– Steve Elkington

Seventeen years before his dramatic comeback victory at The Open, Ernie Els began the final round of the 1995 PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club with a 3 shot lead over Mark O’Meara and Jeff Maggert, 5 shots over Colin Montgomerie, and a 6 shot margin over Steve Elkington and Craig Stadler.

Ernie was at the top of his game in 1995, having recorded 4 major Top-10’s and a U.S. Open title between 1992 and 1994. The only player among the leaders with a major victory was Craig Stadler, and his win at The Masters had come almost twenty years earlier in 1976—so it seemed inevitable that Els would raise the Wanamaker Trophy when play concluded on Sunday.

Steve Elkington, however, was on a mission. With perhaps the greatest swing of all-time, Elk was at the top of his game with a T5 at Augusta in April and a T6 at The Open Championship in July. And although he was again battling the severe sinus problems that plagued him throughout his career, Elkington knocked down stick after stick on Sunday to post a magnificent final round 64—overcoming a 6 shot deficit to finish in a tie with Montgomerie at 17 under par.

When his birdie putt dropped on the first playoff hole, Elkington had won the PGA Championship—and completed one of the greatest comebacks in history.

Phil Mickelson: 2013 Open Championship

Number 8: 2013 Open Championship– Phil Mickelson

Phil had suffered yet another devastating U.S. Open loss at Marion in June, his sixth runner-up finish at the championship he so much wanted to win, so it seemed unlikely that Lefty could bounce back and make a serious run at the Claret Jug in July.

Mickelson, however, continued to push by sharpening his links game while winning the Scottish Open in the week leading up to The Open Championship at Muirfield.

While Phil got off to a good start with a 69 in the first round, he disappeared from the leader board completely with a second round 74—so it seemed highly unlikely that lefty would make The Open his 5th major championship. Muirfield was proving a tough test, however, and Phil fought his way back with a solid 72 in the third round, but still found himself 5 shots off the pace set by leader Lee Westwood heading into the final round.

As the wind started to blow on Sunday, Phil uncharacteristically went to his 3 wood and fashioned a masterful closing round 66 to finish at 3 under par—one of the greatest performances of his illustrious career. And when Westwood faltered with a closing 75, and the other players at the top of the leaderboard succumbed to the weather, Phil won going away with a 3 shot victory in one of the most memorable comebacks in major championship history.

Nick Faldo: 1996 Masters

Number 7: 1996 Masters– Nick Faldo

In the fifteen Masters championships Norman had played heading to August National in 1996, Greg had recorded 2 runner-up finishes, 2 third place finishes, 2 top-5’s and a top 10. And when he opened with a dominating 63 in the first round, it appeared that 1996 would be the year that Norman would slip the green jacket over his shoulders at last.

Norman continued to play solid golf on Friday and Saturday, posting rounds of 69 and 71 for a 54-hole total of 13 under and a commanding 6-shot lead over Nick Faldo going to Sunday.

With his customary laser focus, Faldo applied the pressure in the final round by posting 2 under on the front nine as Norman began to disintegrate with 3 bogeys and a lone birdie—a 4 shot swing that left Faldo only 2 behind going to the back nine.

While Norman imploded completely with 41 on the back, Faldo kept his foot firmly on the gas with a 33 on the closing nine, a final round 67, and a 5 shot victory. Most remember the 1996 Masters for Norman’s colossal collapse, but Faldo’s magnificent final round was stunning—and one of the all-time comebacks in major championship history.

Padraig Harrington: 2007 Open Championship

Number 6: 2007 Open Championship– Padraig Harrington

Sergio Garcia fired a sizzling opening round 65 in pursuit of his first major championship at Carnoustie Golf Links in the 2007 Open Championship, jumping out to a 2 shot lead over Irishman Paul McGinley. At 27 years old, Garcia had recorded 12 major Top-10’s in his career without a win, and it was looking like this would be the week when he finally broke through.

Sergio increased his lead through 54 holes with rounds of 71 and 68 on Friday and Saturday as he climbed to 9 under par going into the final round on Sunday—and it seemed he would just need to hold off Steve Stricker, who had pulled within 3 shots with a brilliant 64 on Saturday.

With all eyes focused on Garcia and Stricker, another Irishman, Padraig Harrington, who had begun the day six shots back at 3 under, slowly began creeping up the leaderboard with birdies on the 3rd, 6th and 9th holes. Meanwhile, Garcia began to stumble with 3 bogeys and a birdie on the front, so his lead had shriveled to a single shot over Harrington.

When Padraig made birdie at 11 and then eagle at 14, he moved to 9 under par and the outright lead. At the 18th hole, however, it suddenly appeared that Padraig’s gutsy charge had come to an end when his approach found the water—resulting in a disastrous double that dropped him once again to a shot back of Sergio’s lead.

Garcia, however, was unable to make par at 18, and his bogey gave Harrington a reprieve as they both finished at 7 under par and headed to a 4-hole playoff.

Padraig made the most of it, playing the extra holes in even par to defeat Sergio by a shot— completing.one of the most exciting finishes (and greatest comebacks) in major championship history.

Payne Stewart: 1989 PGA Championship

Number 5: 1989 PGA Championship– Payne Stewart

Payne Stewart opened the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club with a 74, 8 shots behind Mike Reid, who fired a flawless round of 66. And although Stewart came back strong in the second round with a 66 of his own, he picked up only a single shot as Reid followed up with another great round of 67.

Reid began to back up a bit with a 70 in the third round on Saturday, but again Stewart picked up only one shot while recording a solid round of 69, so Payne found himself six shots back of the lead going into Sunday. On top of that, there were four major champions on the leaderboard between he and Reid (Craig Stadler, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, and reigning back-to-back U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange).

Having recorded 10 Top-10’s in his previous 17 major championships and coming up empty, Stewart refused to be denied once again. After playing the front nine at even par, Payne birdied 5 holes on the back without a bogey for 67, a tounamnet toal of -12, the first of his 3 major championship wins, and a comeback victory that continues to bring a smile to the face of everyone who witnessed his magnificent performance all those years ago.

John Mahaffey: 1978 PGA Championship

Number 4: 1978 PGA Championship– John Mahaffey

John Mahaffey had a solid career on the PGA Tour with 10 wins, but his performance at the 1978 PGA Championship would become his defining moment. Opening with a first round 75 at historic Oakmont Country Club, Mahaffey began the final 54 holes in a very deep hole—eight shots behind Hall of Famer Tom Watson, who had posted a 67.

Mahaffey began to claw his way back into contention with a 67 on Friday, but still found himself six shots behind going into the weekend. And although he backed it up with an outstanding round of 68 on Saturday, he actually lost ground to Watson, who fired a third round 67 and stood at -10 heading into Sunday, 7 shots clear of Mahaffey who was at 3 under par.

But when Tom faltered on Sunday with a 73, Mahaffey maximized his opportunity by carding a magnificent 66, erasing a 7 shot deficit to force a 3-man playoff with Watson and Jerry Pate.

When Mahaffey birdied the second playoff hole, he claimed the Wanamaker Trophy and recorded the biggest Sunday comeback in PGA Championship history.

Gary Player: 1978 Masters

Number 3: 1978 Masters– Gary Player

Gary Player had already won at Augusta twice before with 11 Top-10’s when play got under way at The Masters in 1978. With even par rounds of 72 on Thursday and Friday, Player appeared to be treading water while waiting to make a move, and trailed the leaders (Rod Funseth and Lee Trevino) by 5 shots going to the weekend.

Although Gary kicked it up a notch with a 69 on Saturday, it seemed he had waited just a bit too long as Hubert Green fired a 65 in the third round for a 54-hole total of -10, opening up a 3 shot lead on the field, and a whopping 7 shot margin over Player.

As Sunday’s final round began to heat up, Player crept closer to Green with 3 birdies and a bogey on the front, but Hubert was playing solidly at even par and Gary was still 5 shots behind him going to the back nine.

Since it appeared that Green would not be giving anything away, and Tom Watson had made eagle at 13 to join the lead at 10 under, Player decided it was time to light the afterburner.

With 6 birdies on the back (7 in his last 10 holes), Player charged to the clubhouse with a 30 on the back nine for a final round 64 and a 72-hole total of 11 under par—a shot ahead of the field, and biggest comeback ever at Augusta National.

Johnny Miller: 1973 U.S. Open

Number 2: 1973 U.S. Open– Johnny Miller

The 54-hole leaderboard at the 1973 U.S. Open included many of the all-time greats in the history of golf, including Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player (tied for ninth, 4 shots back at +1), Lee Trevino and Bob Charles (tied for 6th, 2 shots back at -1), and Tom Weiskopf (alone in 5th, 1 shot back at -2). The co-leaders at -3, included Arnold Palmer and Julius Boros, as well as two unheralded tour pros–Jerry Heard and John Schlee.

With so many great players at the top of the leaderboard, it would be pretty much impossible for anyone more than four shots back to win the championship, since even if all of the co-leaders were to falter, one of the other legends who were lurking in the wings was likely to post a low score.

Johnny Miller was seven shots behind the leaders at +4 when play began on Sunday, and to win the championship he would have to go extremely low. Making it even more improbable, the ’73 Open was being played at famed Oakmont Country Club, one of the toughest U.S. Open venues in the rotation.

But Miller did exactly that, firing laser-like approach shots to record 9 birdies on his way to a record setting 63 and the U.S. Open Championship trophy in one of finest rounds ever played, and one of the greatest comebacks in history.

Paul Lawrie: 1999 Open Championship

Number 1: 1999 Open Championship– Paul Lawrie

What most remember when thinking back on the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie is Jean Van de Velde’s disastrous triple bogey on the 18th hole—and that was certainly a difficult and painful moment for the Frenchman who fought so hard throughout the week.

What is less often talked about is the fantastic final round played by Paul Lawrie. Carnoustie, one of the most difficult courses in the Open Championship rotation, had played particularly tough all week with no one in the field under par when play began on Sunday.

Lawrie began the day in a tie for 14th place at +10, ten shots behind Van de Velde. In one of the greatest rounds ever recorded at a major on Sunday, Lawrie navigated the yawning pot bunkers and gnarly rough through gusting winds to post a magnificent four under round of 67. In the entire field, only 3 other players were able to break 70 (Davis Love, Scott Verplank, and Steve Allen—who each shot 69).

When Lawrie defeated Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a playoff to claim the Claret Jug, his charge from ten shots off the lead became the biggest Sunday comeback in the history of major championship golf.

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2022 U.S. Open: Rory Riding High for Battle in Brookline

Rory Hitting Stride for U.S. Open

With his impressive performance at the Canadian Open, it appears that Rory McIlroy is firing on all cylinders in pursuit of his fifth major championship heading into the U.S. Open. Unlike the PGA Championship where he opened with a magnificent 65 and then glided through the second and third rounds with 71 and 74 before finishing with a solid 68 (8th place), Rory kept his foot firmly on the gas from beginning to end last week, with rounds of 66, 68, and 65 before closing with a sizzling 62 (19 under total). Justin Thomas, brimming with confidence in the wake of his second major championship victory at the PGA, refused to make it easy for Rory in the final round, however. Thomas began the day 2 shots back of Rory at 9 under, and after reeling off six straight birdies from 6 through 11 and adding another at 14, he got to 17 under—within a shot of Rory’s lead. When McIlroy fanned his tee shot into the bunker on the par 3 16th and made bogey, they were tied going to the last two holes—and Rory had a downcast look about him as he left the green that’s been all too common in recent years.

By the time he reached the 17th tee Rory had gathered himself and, deciding to let the big dog eat, unleashed a 367-yard bomb that left only a wedge from 127 yards. He then stiffed his approach to 2 feet, and tapped in for birdie. When Thomas faltered with a bogey, Rory carried a 2-shot lead going to the last. At 18 he ripped another 300+ yard drive to the right fairway, once again stiffing his approach (4 feet this time), and tapped in for birdie and his second consecutive Canadian Open Championship.

When Rory kicks it up a notch in the face of a full-on stress test applied by the reigning PGA Champ, it should give the field at The Country Club something to ponder and have golf fans chomping at the bit.

Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas and John Rahm

The Contenders

Rory certainly looks to be in full control of his game, and it will be shocking if he is not among the leaders come Sunday. He will have a monumental task ahead though, because the field for the 2022 U.S. Open may be the deepest ever assembled for a golf championship. In addition to the red-hot Thomas, Scottie Scheffler, reigning Masters Champion, is at the top of his game as well—and no doubt casting a keen eye toward backing up his win at Augusta with another major championship. The most dangerous player in the field, however, may be Jon Rham. The career numbers Rham has put up on the PGA Tour thus far are eye-popping, and he is past due for his second major. In 120 starts, Jon has finished in the Top 10 an astounding 49% of the time—the highest of any player in the field. In addition, he’s made the cut in 90% of the events he’s entered—so he’s rarely off his game.

Although Jordan Spieth missed the cut at The Masters, he’s recorded a Top 10 in 3 of his last 5 starts, including a win at The Heritage, a runner-up at the Byron Nelson, and a T7 at the Charles Schwab Challenge. With 3 major championships on his resume, Jordan knows how to close under pressure—and his putter is second to none. Although Collin Morikawa has been treading water while making cuts since his strong finish at the Masters (5th), his driving accuracy and precision iron play is exactly what the USGA looks for in an Open Champ.

Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa

Based on his dismal season thus far, one might assume that Brooks Koepka will be lacking confidence when he tees it up at the 2022 U.S. Open today. Don’t count on it. After missing the cut as an amateur back in 2012, Koepka, has played the Open 7 times—recording 2 wins (back-to-back in 2017 and 2018), a runner up (2019), 2 T4’s (2014 and 2021) as well as a T13 in 2016 and a T18 in 2015. Koepka lives for major championship golf, and a win this week would go a long way toward healing the pain of yet another injury-plagued season. Perhaps, Tiger-like, he’ll summon a great performance with sheer will and fortitude.

Based on his uninspired performance at the LIV event in London, and with money no longer an incentive, it will be interesting to see what Dustin Johnson brings to the table at the Open. With so few opportunities to achieve anything meaningful in golf going forward, perhaps Dustin will make a statement. It would seem unlikely, but the talent is still there.

Young Guns: Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann and Victor Hoveland

The 2022 U.S. Open will also feature a host of mega-talented young stars on the verge of breaking loose at a major—and you can be assured a few will appear on the leaderboard as the championship rolls into the weekend. Will Zalatoris has already recorded 4 Top-10 finishes at major championships in only his second season on Tour, and 24-year-old Victor Hoveland has recorded 3 Tour wins while making the cut in 58 of the 64 events he’s played (91%). Sungjae Im, also 24 years old, has recorded 23 Tour Top-10’s, including 2 wins and a T8 at Augusta in April. Joaquin Niemann, 23 years old, has racked up 21 Top-10’s including 2 wins, and 25-year-old Sam Burns has already notched 4 wins on Tour (3 wins in 2022).

With McIlroy, Thomas, and Scheffler at the top of their game, and so many bright young stars who are poised to burst through at a major, this U.S. Open promises to be memorable indeed—and we are in for a spectacular weekend of golf.

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Understanding Course Rating and Slope

Know the Slope

If you’ve ever been on a golf trip, at some point while sitting down to a nice dinner and drinks with the group, the conversation below has no doubt taken place.

Somebody asks; “Where are we playing tomorrow?”

The trip organizer, sporting a big grin says; “Shiny Bauble—has a Slope of 147.”

Which is immediately met by a universal chorus of approval and excitement, with comments like:

“Wow, 147 Slope–must be a great course,” and “Oh boy, this is going be fun”.

These sentiments may certainly be justified for the low handicap players in the group, but for the 18-handicap golfer—not necessarily so. If Handicap Index alone is used when playing their matches, and not Course Handicap adjusting for the high slope, chances are pretty good that the high handicapper will end up losing a few bucks (and absorb some battle scars as well).

Be prepared

The Slope Myth

Slope Rating is one of the most misunderstood concepts in golf, and figuring out how it’s derived is an even bigger mystery. Most assume the higher the slope, the harder the course—and also that there’s a relationship between slope and quality. There is some truth in both of these assumptions, but a high slope does not mean tougher for everybody, only that average and higher handicap players will have more difficulty shooting the score they are used to than low handicap players.

As for quality, course characteristics that increase slope, such as an abundance of trees and steep faced bunkers, certainly tend to make a course more visually appealing—but also require heavy maintenance, adding a financial strain that may make it difficult for a facility to sustain over-all course conditioning (particularly during tough economic times).

Defining The Slope Rating

One of the things that makes golf so much fun is that regardless of skill level, everyone can compete on an even footing by using their Handicap Index. Handicap Index is derived by comparing the scores you have posted to a course of “Standard” difficulty. The critical element, however, is your Course Handicap. Course Handicap is based on the difficulty of the course you are playing at any given time—so each course is rated by state golf associations to provide that piece of the equation.

Because the characteristics that make a course harder for an “every-day” golfer are not necessarily the same as those that make it difficult for a highly skilled player, the World Rating System provides both a “Course Rating” and a “Bogey Rating.” The Course Rating reflects the projected score that a “scratch” player (0 Handicap) would be expected to shoot, while the Bogey Rating refers to the projected score that an “every-day” golfer (18 handicap) would be expected to shoot—and “Slope Rating” is the difference between the two.

TPC Sawgrass

If the Course Rating System determines that on a course of standard difficulty the scratch player should expect to shoot 72 and 18-handicap golfers should expect to shoot 90, the Course Rating is set at 72.0, the Bogey Rating is set at 90—with a Slope Rating of 113. The Slope rating moves up or down based on the difference between Course Rating and Bogey Rating. If a course includes characteristics that would cause the “every-day” golfer to shoot higher scores, but have less effect on a scratch player, then the Bogey Rating goes up while the Course Rating stays roughly the same—which results in a higher Slope Rating.

For example, a course may have a 340-yard Par 4 where the tee shot needs to fly at least 240 yards to clear a water hazard before reaching the fairway (“forced carry”). The scratch player’s tee shot will generally clear the water with ease and leave a short approach, so it’s a pretty easy hole. On the other hand, a high handicap golfer might hit a bucket of balls and never get his tee shot over the water—so for him it’s a nightmare. A hole like this may cause the Course Rating to actually decrease, while pushing the Bogey Rating way up—increasing the spread between them, and making the Slope Rating go higher.

If you don’t Adjust for Slope

Leveling The Field

The purpose of Slope Rating is to adjust the handicap of any golfer who is not a “scratch” (0 Handicap) player, and thus level the field–not as a measure of over-all course difficulty. If Handicap Index is used alone, without adjusting for Course Handicap, the lower handicap golfer will almost always gain an advantage—and the higher the Slope, the bigger that advantage will be. To adjust your Handicap Index for Course Handicap, you can use the formula below–or visit the USGA website and go to the “Handicap Calculator” (in addition, the Course Rating and Slope Database now includes the ability to enter your Handicap Index and see your Course Handicap for the particular course you are playing).  

Course Handicap = Handicap Index × (Slope Rating ÷113) + (Course Rating-Par)

If you have a Handicap Index of 18, playing against a scratch player on a track with a Course Rating of 72 and a Slope Rating of 147, your Course handicap will adjust to 23, while the scratch player’s handicap remains at 0. If you use only Handicap Index, and not Course Handicap, your opponent will gain a 5 shot advantage—and it’s likely you’ll be forking over some cash.

The World Handicap System was implemented to even up the playing field for golfers of all skill levels, so be sure to use your Course Handicap when playing a match. And don’t count on the wily low handicap golfer to volunteer the adjustment—he’s looking forward to settling up at the 19th hole.

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2020 U.S. Amateur Championship

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort was the site of the 2020 U.S. Amateur Championship
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, OR

The 2020 U.S Amateur, one of the most memorable in history, was staged at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. Twenty-two-year old Tyler Strafaci, a senior at Georgia Tech narrowly defeated nineteen-year-old Charles “Ollie” Osborne, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University. Although I consider myself a golf fanatic (I follow both the PGA Tour as well as the Champions Tour pretty closely), the Amateur events never really piqued my interest—until now. In fact, I had never even watched a U.S. Amateur before, other than a highlight or two on golf channel. I know what you must be thinking–how can I call this one of the most memorable U.S. Amateurs in history, if it was the first one I’ve ever seen. Well, that would be a fair point, but I’ve watched the final round of nearly every major professional golf championship, whether it be live or on tape, and the final match of this U.S. Amateur was one of the most exciting displays of quality golf I have ever seen. My dad, who has seen many U.S. Amateurs, shared the same view. With the exception of perhaps the Stenson/Mickelson duel at Troon during the 2016 Open Championship, I’d say the final match at this year’s U.S. Amateur would be hard to beat.

The Format

The U.S. Amateur begins with 36 holes of stoke play on Monday and Tuesday and then moves to match play from Wednesday through Sunday. Normally, non-professionals with a handicap index of 2.4 or better qualify for the tournament at a variety of venues around the country to fill out a field of 312 players, but this year COVID-19 forced the USGA to cancel qualifying and instead use the World Amateur Golf Rankings to determine a field of 264 players. The stroke play portion is similar to what you see every week on the PGA tour, where players tee it up and try to make the lowest score they can. Once the stroke play portion of the tournament is completed, the 64 players with lowest score are seeded based on score and advance to match play. Match play is where the excitement begins to build, with players going head to head in a format where if you lose your match, you go home. In match play, each hole stands alone and you either win it or lose it, regardless of the score you make. The first day includes 32 matches with the winners moving on to the next round on Thursday. The field is cut in half each day until two players remain to compete in the final on Sunday, a 36-hole pressure packed head to head battle of wills where grit and determination is more important than talent alone.

The Highlights

There were plenty of high points throughout the tournament, but one particular moment stands out, demonstrating the pressure of the U.S. Amateur and the heartbreak that it can include. It came during the third round between Tyler Strafaci and Segundo Oliva Pinto, in a match that was closely contested throughout. They came to the par 5 eighteenth hole with the match all square, and Pinto put his third shot into the green side bunker. Strafaci was just short of the green, looking at a lengthy birdy opportunity, so it was critical that Pinto make a good bunker shot and save his par—no easy task with many of the damp, windswept bunkers at Bandon Dunes. Caught up in the moment, and in an effort to go the extra mile for his player, Pinto’s caddie jumped down into the bunker and tested the sand with his fingers so he could give him an idea of how firm it was. Unfortunately, touching the sand is a rules infraction and the penalty is loss of hole, and in this case loss of match as well because it was the last hole of an even match.

Another memorable moment came in Tyler Strafaci’s semi-final match against Aman Gupta. Entering the field as an alternate, Gupta came into the week as a long shot–but boy did he put on a helluva show. After qualifying for the match play portion as the number 5 seed and knocking off three opponents to reach the semi-final, he found himself 4 down to Strafaci through 12 holes and it appeared the match was over. Refusing to quit, Gupta proceeded to win 4 out of the next 5 holes and clawed himself back to even going to the par 5 eighteenth hole. Bandon Dunes is a tricky, links style course, where an aggressive play and unlucky bounce can land you in a world of trouble—which is exactly what happened to Gupta when his tee shot found a fairway bunker. Strafaci was in good shape with a solid chance to reach the par 5 in two, and Gupta chose an aggressive play over the steep face of the bunker in an effort to get as close to the green as possible. Unfortunately, his week ended when the shot failed to clear the face of the bunker and ended up back at his feet (as did his next attempt). It was a tough way to lose, but he can certainly hold his head high after displaying so much grit and determination (not to mention a great many quality golf shots).

After so many great matches, I wondered if the final between Strafaci and Charles (“Ollie”) Osborne could possibly measure up, and to my amazement, it certainly did—and then some. The long-hitting, and quite imposing, Osborne took a big early lead over Strafaci at 5 up through 12 holes. And even though the final is a 36-hole match, that’s a big deficit to overcome. Strafaci fought hard though, as he did in every match throughout the week, winning 4 of the next 5 holes to get within one, and then squaring it with a win on the 20th hole. The match remained even until Stafaci took a one up lead by winning the 25th hole, and held it for the next five. Osborne squared the match with a win on the 31st hole, and the final 5 holes included some of the best golf you could ever see as each player traded shot for shot. Strafaci won the 32nd and 33rd holes to go 2 up, and then Osborne won the 34th and 35th holes to square it up again. It all came down to the par 5 final hole, where Osborne pounded his drive right down the middle and Strefaci responded with a beauty of his own. Strefaci was away, as he had been many times throughout the match, and promptly striped a laser-like 3 iron to 15 feet, putting the pressure right back on Osborne. Ollie finally cracked when he pushed his approach to the right of the green, and was unable to get up and down for birdie. Strafaci two putted for the victory, capping off a terrific final match.

Summing Up

This win was particularly emotional for Strafaci, as his family has deep ties to amateur golf. His late grandfather, Frank Strafaci, was something of a legend among serious amateur golfers, having won the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links championship as well as winning the North and South Amateur twice (an accomplishment that Tyler matched in 2019.) It was also fitting that Tyler’s father; Frank Jr. was on his bag to share the moment as the family legacy was carried forward. It will be interesting to see if Tyler will try his hand on the PGA tour, or maintain his amateur status and add to his accomplishments (either way, it is certain we have not seen the last of Tyler Stefaci). Ollie Osborne, at nineteen years old, looks like a shoe-in for the Tour at some point—but the field at 2021 U. S. Amateur will have to play some serious golf if anyone hopes to stop him again.

Learn more about the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort with GolfDay.

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