Andy Ogletree Takes U.S. Amateur

Andy OgletreeBy Jerry Ratcliffe

PINEHURST, N.C. Andy Ogletree wasn’t thinking about making history, about an exemption into next year’s Masters and U.S. Open, or even making the Walker Cup team. All the Georgia Tech senior focused on throughout Sunday’s 36-hole U.S. Amateur championship was simple, perhaps even boring.

“Hitting fairways and greens was what I kept thinking all day,” said the bespectacled 21-year-old Mississippi native.

The strategy served him well as he overcame a large deficit – 4 down after six holes – to defeat favored John Augenstein in the morning round on Pinehurst No. 4, then went on to win 2 and 1 in the afternoon round at Pinehurst No. 2, the first time the U.S. Am’s championship was played on two different courses.

During the marathon match under a burning Carolina sun, Ogletree learned a lot about himself.

“I learned the more nervous I got, the better I hit it,” he said. “There’s no guide for that, you have to live it, learn on the fly. I learned that I can handle the pressure, handle the heat and still perform.”

Ogletree refused to fold after Augenstein’s blazing start. The Vanderbilt senior won four straight holes, including three birdies in a row in a startling getaway. At that point, it appeared to be the Kentuckian’s championship to lose.

“I showed a lot of resilience out there and never gave up,” said Ogletree, the first player ever from Mississippi to win the U.S. Am. “I kept telling myself that I’m going to win this tournament even though I was down.

“I mean, I shot 67 the opening 18 and was 2-down. That’s some pretty incredible golf there by John. He shot 5-under, which was the course record.”

Augenstein, who along with Ogletree was named to the U.S. Walker Cup team immediately after the match, got off to the start he had dreamed of, but said that had he been in Ogletree’s position, that he would have had the same positive thoughts about a comeback.

“Andy snagged that [birdie] putt on 18 that changed momentum,” Augenstein said. “I think that was an underrated turning point of the day. I fought my hardest but in the end, I didn’t hit enough good shots and make putts, and Andy was solid.”

Augenstein wasn’t exactly a slouch. He played 44 straight holes without trailing over the weekend until the 31st hole of the day after his tee shot landed in the pine weeds, leading to a bogey. Ogletree parred to go 1 up, his first lead of the day.

The two halved the 15th and 16th holes before the deciding par-3, 17th. Ogletree’s tee shot was inside Augenstein’s, causing Augenstein to be aggressive with his birdie putt, perhaps overly aggressive as it rolled well past the hole and eventually led to a four-putt double bogey that ended the match.

Ogletree missed his birdie try, and waited for Augenstein, who was still away, to putt out.

“Of course, if I knew he was going to miss [the birdie putt] I would try to make a par and go to 18,” Augenstein said. “I can live with myself with being aggressive. I can’t live with myself if I leave that short and he makes.”

Winning the championship was a big deal, making him the third Georgia Tech player to claim the trophy, the first since Matt Kucher in 1997. The great Bobby Jones won five times between 1924 and 1930.

It also put Ogletree’s name on a trophy that included names such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.

Speaking of Woods, the U.S. Amateur champion is traditionally paired with the defending Masters champion in the first two days of play at Augusta, an intimidating thought for Ogletree.

“I think I’ve watched every YouTube ever of Tiger,” the champion said. “I can’t imagine what that first tee shot will be with Tiger. I’ll be even more nervous than I was here. I don’t even know what I’ll say.”

Ogletree said that having grown up in a small town (Little Rock, Miss., population 2,000) has kept him even-keeled, which helped him navigate the troubled waters of Sunday morning’s start.

Back in Little Rock, they’re celebrating a championship.

Asked what he thought his hometown might be celebrating, Ogletree didn’t blink.

“There’s no telling,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of adult beverages going down right now.”

Celebrating a championship for the ages.

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