The 110th U.S. Amateur – the major golf tournament the Northwest has embraced – is down to two exceptional players:
Stanford’s David Chung and Oklahoma State’s Peter Uihlein.
Chung, 21, of Fayetteville, N.C., won the 18th hole Saturday to eliminate defending champion Byeong-Hun An, 1-up, in one semifinal match at Chambers Bay.
Uihlein, 20, of Orlando, Fla., moved past teenager Patrick Cantlay, 4 and 3, in the other semifinal.
One look at their career achievements, and it’s no wonder these two college stars arrived at this point. They were both American Junior Golf Association stars. Both are ranked high in the world amateur rankings – Uihlein No. 1 and Chung No. 4 and rising.
Fittingly, they will duke it out in today’s 36-hole championship in the state that produced two of their biggest golf influences.
Two men helped pull them out of some of their darkest periods in the sport.
For Chung, the lull came as a teenager.
Set to make a name for himself, but struggling with his game, he moved to Orlando in 2006 with his mother, Elise, to work with renowned instructor Brian Mogg, a Lakes High graduate.
While being home schooled through high school, Chung attended practice sessions with Mogg three days a week.
“I went to Brian at a time when my game was kind of bad,” Chung said. “He is probably one of the best teachers in the nation … and really the best at course management I know.
“He would tell me stuff that I wouldn’t think of – stuff I still use today.”
By 2008, Chung was again one of the top juniors in the world, and went off to Stanford.
For Uihlein, his issues started when he got to college in 2008 as a two-time AJGA player of the year.
As a true freshman, Uihlein was not scoring well enough to crack the top five on the Cowboys. One weekend, former IMG Academy mate Jonathan Moore, of Vancouver, Wash., – was in Stillwater, Okla., for a visit.
Moore went through a horrible stretch of lack of confidence before pulling out of it to win the 2006 NCAA Division I men’s title for Oklahoma State.
“I was struggling, and he gave me the best advice to get out of my funk – something I’ve used at every course,” Uihlein said. “He said, ‘If you go out and play nine holes, if you hit eight bad shots and hit one good one, remember that one good one.’
“I’ve looked up to him. And I try and do that in every practice round.”
Chambers Bay has forced the world’s best amateur golfers to take the bad with the good.
Chung and Uihlein have done that better than anybody.
That is why they’re playing for the United States Golf Association’s most prestigious amateur title.
Against An on Saturday, Chung was 3-down after nine holes – thanks, in large part, to An shooting 6-under thrrough six holes, including an eagle-2 at the shortened par-4 fifth hole.
“Just perfect golf,” An said.
A different plot unfolded on the back nine. Chung won two of the first three holes, including a birdie at the 12th to get to 1-down.
He sank a 15-foot putt for par to halve No. 13, and almost holed a delicate flop shot from 40 yards to save par again at No. 14 and stay close.
Chung’s par on the 15th evened the match, and a birdie a hole later gave him his first lead.
The advantage was erased almost immediately when Chung tried to go for a difficult pin position at No. 17. His shot ended up in a bunker, which led to a bogey, and match headed to the 18th hole all-square.
That is where An made his worst swing of the match – and possibly the week – when his 5-iron approach from 210 yards leaked right and into a horrible lie next to grassy outcropping in a greenside bunker.
“I swung a little fast,” An said.
Chung did not, sending his mid-iron approach to the back of the green.
An escaped the bunker, but landed in a difficult place from which he three-putted. Chung was able to two-putt from 50 feet for a par.
“I knew I would have my chances, and I’d have to take advantage of them going into the back nine,” Chung said. “Luckily I was able to do that.”
Making a U.S. Amateur final has been expected of Uihlein since he was a teenager – maybe earlier. Now he’s in one.
After winning the opening hole against Cantlay, he kept that lead for good with par-saving putts of 12 feet or longer on three of the next four holes to stay ahead of the reigning state high school champion from California.
Eventually, Uihlein wore Cantlay down, winning on the 15th hole.
“I was filling up the cup early,” Uihlein said. “I literally just made a couple more putts than him to start off, and I think that was the difference.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org