Uihlein takes cake, and U.S. Amateur title

Turning 21, Oklahoma State’s Peter Uihlein in a sense became a new man on Sunday.

He also became the newest U.S. Amateur champion.

His college generation’s biggest name, fans have waited to see Uihlein break through with a defining career moment.

He did just that, tripping up Stanford’s David Chung, 4 and 2 (four hole ahead with two to play), in the championship match at Chambers Bay.

Most of the 5,250 gallery members lined the dunes along the scenic 16th hole late in the afternoon, watching what turned out to be Uihlein’s final shot: his tee shot on the drivable par-4 hole.

After he marked his ball – about 25 feet away for an eagle – he had a long wait while Chung, who hooked his ball into the high grass to the left, never escaped the trouble.

After two attempts to get out of the fine fescue, Chung finally plucked the ball out of the gnarly grass behind the green and made the slow walk toward Uihlein, conceding the hole and match.

“Kudos to Peter,” Chung said. “He played fantastic today.”

The moment was almost surreal for Uihlein, the top-ranked American in junior golf in 2005 and 2007.

He became the No. 1 amateur in July when he won the Sahalee Players Championship.

But this was bigger, much bigger – so much that when he walked over to his parents, Wally and Tina, both were overcome with emotion.

“Having them there is pretty special,” Uihlein said. “They were crying, so I just kind of said, ‘This is pretty cool.’ They just hugged and said, ‘Happy birthday.’ It was pretty special.”

Not only had his mom walked every round, competitive and practice, during the Sahalee tournament, she did the same thing this week at the 110th U.S. Amateur.

His father – the chairman of Acushnet, which oversees golf products giants Titleist and FootJoy – flew in for match play, and walked every hole his son played.

“This is rewarding,” Wally Uihlein said. “Peter moved away (to the IMG Academy in Florida) at 13, and we were America’s dysfunctional family for a while. There were a lot of personal sacrifices, and we don’t recommend people do what we did. It’s been a challenging journey, so this is gratifying.”

Two times Chung made a run after an early deficit, and two times Uihlein rebuked him.

The first came during the morning round. Chung almost aced the par-3 17th to pull to 1-down.

Both faced mid-range shots for eagle at No. 18. Going first, Uihlen elected to chip from the fringe – and knocked it in from 30 feet.

Chung putted, missing a 28-footer, and went back to 2-down.

“To take one on (No.) 18 and get the momentum going back into the (second round) was definitely big,” Uihlein said.

Chung, indeed, lost steam, especially after playing the back nine of the first 18 holes in 5-under par.

After the 65-minute break for lunch, Chung played the next nine holes nearly flawlessly – and didn’t win any of them. During that span, Uihlein added to his lead, going 4-up.

“I almost all the time put myself in a big hole, and I somehow bring myself out of it,” Chung said. “But I just couldn’t drop the putts when I needed to today.”

He did have one final charge at Uihlein.

A par at the 28th hole got him to 3-down. He sank a downhill 22-foot putt for birdie on the next hole to trim it to 2-down. And after landing nearly pin high on the drivable par-4 12th – the 30th hole – he faced an 11-foot putt for eagle.

“If I made that putt … I think that I could have made a run at it,” Chung said.

But the putt slid by left of the mark, and the two halved the hole.

“I feel like I stole one there,” Uihlein said. “That was big, because I felt (the next two holes) kind of played more into my hands.”

Uihlein hit two monster drives on the next two holes – the second one, at the 32nd hole, landed in the hazard to the left. But he had only 163 yards in, and hit a 7-iron to the middle of the green.

And after missing four birdie putts of 12 feet or shorter, he didn’t miss the 24-footer, rolling it into the center of hole for a commanding 3-up advantage with four holes remaining.

In essence, the match was over, and it officially concluded two holes later.

When asked if a victory such as this – one of the United States Golf Association’s most prestigious titles – was long overdue, or something he figured would never come, Uihlein said he tried not to put a great deal of emphasis on that.

“It’s just one of those things you’ve got to keep trying to get better, keep trying to work hard and hopefully it will just all click,” said Uihlein, who became the first Oklahoma State golfer since Scott Verplank in 1984 to win the U.S. Amateur.

“Chambers, I felt, set up great for my game. I got lucky in a couple of matches … and this just happened to be my week.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442