Chris Williams Sweeps Western Amateur Honors

< HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012) – An hour and 42-minute rain delay on Saturday afternoon gave an exhausted Chris Williams an opportunity to do something he'd had little time for earlier during the grueling Western Amateur week: take a nap and watch a little Olympic table tennis inside the clubhouse at Exmoor Country Club. "I woke up and said, 'Oh my God, I might be on the course!' Then I figured they would have come and gotten me," said the 21-year-old from Moscow, Idaho. "The table tennis was exciting." Evidently, the rest and relaxation helped. When Williams and final-match opponent Jordan Russell of College Station, Texas, returned to the 16th hole, Williams wound up making an 8-foot par putt to Russell's bogey to take a 2-up lead. He then absorbed a body blow when Russell drained an uphill, 25-foot birdie putt on No. 17, cutting Williams' lead back to one. On No. 18, Russell lipped out an 8-foot downhill putt for par that would have extended the match to extra holes. Williams, who had left a 100-yard gap wedge 30 feet above the hole and then left his first putt 2 1/2 feet short, stood over a nerve-wracking, 30-inch par putt to win the 110th Western Amateur. He made it. “On the last putt, I was pretty nervous,” said Williams, who claimed medalist honors earlier in the week as 72-hole stroke play champion. “I was shaking. I figured he was going to make his putt, and we’d be going back to the first hole [for extra holes].”

Williams, a University of Washington senior who has won many tournaments and played on the 2011 Walker Cup team, called his Western Amateur victory “my biggest one.” Last year, he also won medalist honors but was eliminated in the first round of match play by Patrick Cantlay, who now plays professionally.

Asked what it meant to him to win both medalist honors and the championship after his experience of 2011, Williams said, “There’s not even words to describe it. I work hard. I practice a lot. I came here with high expectations, and I was able to do it.”

Russell, a recent graduate of Texas A&M who was 2 up on Williams at the turn, was classy in defeat.

“I made him earn it, so I’m not too disappointed,” Russell said. “Overall, I’m very pleased with how I played this week. It’s a great event.”

A strapping Texan wearing a bucket hat, Russell went 2-up on the par 4 9th when he parred and Williams made bogey. But Williams cut the lead to one when he got up and down for birdie from the left rough on the par 5 11th and Russell, whose tee shot landed in the trees right of the fairway, had to settle for par.

Williams then squared the match in unlikely fashion on the 184-yard, par 3 12th. Playing first, Williams hit his tee shot into the bunker left of the green. Russell followed by hitting his ball into the lake right of the hole. Williams got up and down for par while Russell made a double bogey 5.
Williams went 1 up on the 174-yard par 3 14th, when he drained a 6-foot par putt and Russell lipped out a three-footer for par after a great lag from 50 feet. Both made unconventional par 5s on the 573-yard 15th.

“It’s hard to pinpoint the most critical shot when you play four days of stroke play and four days of match play,” Williams said. “But I made the par putt on 14 that was twice as long as his to take the lead. That might have been it.”

On 16, Williams’ tee shot found the right rough while Russell’s blasted his straight, long and down the fairway. Moments later, with players and gallery walking toward the green, lightning split the sky and the ominous storm that many spectators and officials had been monitoring via smartphone radar weather maps moved in and, at 3:55 p.m., play was called.

When play was about to resume almost two hours later, both players agreed to return to the course directly, opting not to warm up. It was then that Russell missed the green from the fairway and Williams left his first putt eight feet short.

Williams is the first player since Danny Lee in 2008 to win both medalist honors as well as the overall championship. Lee currently plays on the PGA Tour.

The victory moved Williams to No. 1 from No. 6 in the highly respected Scratch Players Amateur Rankings. Russell moves to No. 10 from No. 18. Both players will compete in the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills in Denver the week of August 11.

Morning Semifinal

Williams defeated Abraham Ancer in their morning semifinal match on the first hole of a sudden death playoff after Ancer hit his tee shot out of bounds on the No. 1 hole and couldn’t recover. Williams hit the flagstick from 225 yards with his second shot before Ancer airmailed the green with his third, missed his par pitch, and conceded the match.

Russell defeated Peter Williamson on the second hole of sudden death when he made a 4-foor putt for birdie on the No. 2 hole. Moments before, Williamson’s missed his chip for birdie from the rough just in front of the green.

Williamson limped through much of the match after he woke up with pain in his left knee.

“I woke up this morning and I couldn’t walk,” said Williamson. “I took an Advil to get me going but it was bugging me all day. I was just trying to ignore it. I wasn’t able to push off it for the last 14 holes. The last stretch I couldn’t hit it left if I tried.”

But Williamson was careful to give credit to Russell. “He played solid conservative golf and stuck to his game plan, so give him credit…It was only a matter of time that he was going to make a birdie and he did.”

-Barry Cronin 

110th Western Amateur Match Play Results
Saturday, Aug. 4
Exmoor Country Club, Highland Park, Illinois
Par 72 Yardage: 7,116
First-Round Match Play
Friday Morning
Chris Williams, Moscow, Idaho, def. Richard Lamb, South Bend, Ind., 6 and 5
Brandon Stone, Centurion, South Africa, def. Zac Blair, Ogden, Utah, 1 up
Sean Dale, Jacksonville, Fla., def. Jeffrey Kang, Buena Park, Calif., 3 and 2
Abraham Ancer, Mission, Texas, def., Cheng-Tsung Pan, Miaoli, Taiwan, 20 holes

Lower Bracket
Lorens Chan, Honolulu, Hawaii, def. Pedro Figueiredo, Azeitao, Portugal, 20 holes
Peter Williamson, Hanover, N.H., def. Alex Moon, Plano, Texas, 4 and 3
Justin Thomas, Goshen, Ky., def. Mackenzie Hughes, Dundas, Canada, 2 and 1
Jordan Russell, College Station, Texas, def. Kevin Penner, Sammamish, Wash., 2 and 1

Friday Afternoon
Williams def. Stone, 2 up
Ancer def. Dale, 4 and 3
Williamson def. Chan, 5 and 3
Russell def. Thomas, 4 and 3

Semifinal Matches
Saturday Morning
Williams def. Ancer, 19 holes.
Russell def. Williamson, 20 holes
Championship Match

Saturday Noon
Williams def. Russell, 1 up