At the beginning of last week's U.S. Amateur the contestants included doctors, lawyers and airline pilots, upholsterers, county judges and hockey players. But at the end all that was left were two fuzzy-cheeked college boys battling across an elegant old Donald Ross golf course for the championship.
John Cook, 20, of Ohio State, and Scott Hoch, 23, of Wake Forest, settled the issue in 32 holes of match play Sunday afternoon at New Jersey's Plainfield Country Club. In the first nine holes the lead changed hands three times. But on the back nine. Cook, who looks and putts like Ben Crenshaw, caught fire. In the space of seven holes he made five birdies, hitting magnificent iron shots and sinking putt after putt. Hoch never quit trying, but as he said afterwards, "A great player played great, and that's tough to beat." They went to lunch with Cook five up.
In the afternoon most of the breaks went to Cook and most of the bad lies and putts that might have dropped but didn't belonged to Hoch. After the first three holes, Cook was leading by eight, but Hoch hung on, allowing Cook only one more hole and taking four himself. But on the 32nd hole, the inevitable happened, Cook winning the match 5 and 4 with two putts from 40 feet for par to become the 78th U.S. Amateur champion. "I've never played this well," he said. "It scared me." The No. 2 amateur said, "I tried the best I could to make a match out of it."
Earlier in the week a middle-aged spectator standing beside the 9th green watching the passing parade of shaggy collegians muttered to no one in particular, "I don't care who wins this. I'd just like to see it be a guy with one gray hair in his head."
Rooting for gray hairs in the U.S. Amateur these days is about as profitable as waiting the return of the gutta-percha ball. Even rooting for grown-ups is getting a little silly. The only full-grown adult with a fighting chance to win at Plainfield was Jay Sigel, a 34-year-old Philadelphia insurance man who has won most of the country's important amateur tournaments at one time or another since 1968, when he graduated from Wake Forest, which he attended on an Arnold Palmer scholarship. Sigel has never won the Amateur, but because he has won two other tournaments and had several high finishes this summer, the more doggedly optimistic amateur watchers thought maybe this was his year. Weekend golfers everywhere will be saddened to learn that Sigel lost to 18-year-old Bob Wrenn, Wake Forest '81, 5 and 4, in the fourth round.
By the quarterfinals only one taxpayer was left—Steve Owen, a 27-year-old real-estate man from Haines City, Fla. Having just beaten Bill Monneyham of the University of Houston in the fifth round, Owen was on top of the world. One more win and he would be in the semifinals, and making the semis in the U.S. Amateur means an automatic invitation to the Masters.
Well, Steve Owen will not be in Augusta come April, but Bob Clampett, the 18-year-old phenom of this year's U.S. Open, will. Clampett, the heavy favorite at Plainfield on the basis of winning the prestigious Western Amateur and the Porter Cup, sent Owen home to Haines City a 6 and 4 loser.
And then there were four. For once, the always exciting but not always reliable match-play format of the Amateur produced four of the best players and likeliest contenders in the 201-man field. And this time there were two extraordinary semifinal matches, each of which went two extra holes.
Clampett, who had lost only once in his last 22 matches, seemed to have his place in the final sewed up on the 18th hole, when Hoch hit a three-wood off the tee that rebounded straight back after hitting a tree trunk in the left rough. The match was even at that point, and Clampett had a clear second shot to the green. But then Hoch hit what he calls "the one lucky shot you need to win in match play." He figured his distance, factored in the wind, which was against him, and hit a knuckleball eight-iron that landed 10 feet from the pin. From there he two-putted for a halve that kept him alive and sent the match to the 19th tee.
Then it was Clampett's turn for a miracle shot. His legs were beginning to tire, and as they did, his shots began going to the right. Clampett is 5'9", weighs 140 pounds and usually loses a few pounds during a tournament. At the 19th hole he hit his tee shot right, onto an adjoining tee, where his route to the green was blocked by a clump of tall fir trees. However, he hit a nearly impossible snap-hook five-iron that landed on the green 35 feet from the pin. After two putts he had a par and a memorable halve.
On the next hole, Clampett hit his tee shot to the right again, but this time he was fresh out of miracles. Hoch took the match with a par. Hoch admitted he had been psyched up for Clampett. "There is no question that he is the best in the country this summer." he said, "but I didn't want him to walk away with everything. That's just not American!"
Meanwhile, Cook, a junior at Ohio State, was engaged in another classic match with Mike Peck of Stanford. Both are tall, slim, good-looking blonds, Cook a business and finance major who may or may not finish school, Peck an economics major only a few units short of a B.A. Cook, who was recruited for Ohio State by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, will turn pro. The only question is how soon. Peck, who was not recruited for Stanford by Tom Watson, even though he also is from Kansas City, has at least a few doubts about whether to turn pro at all. Each has played No. 1 for his college team—Cook for two years, Peck for three—but Cook has the more impressive record, especially as a junior. Like Clampett, he has won the California State Amateur.
Cook took the lead for the first time when he birdied the 7th hole, but Peck evened things with an eagle on the par-4 10th. It was Peck's second eagle 2 of the day, the first having been in his morning quarterfinal match when he hit a six-iron into the cup on the fly at the 13th, a 460-yard par 4. The shot damaged the hole so badly that a new hole had to be cut four paces to the rear.
Where this remarkable shot occurred in the morning, there was an unlikely double disaster in the afternoon. Peck won the hole and went one-up with a double bogey when Cook hit out of bounds and took a triple bogey. Cook evened the match again with a 12-foot birdie at 15. Peck chipped in from just off the green at 17 for a saving halve. The cliff-hanging finally ended on the 20th hole when Cook sank a 20-foot putt for a birdie that fell in on its last revolution. Thus was the Cook-Hoch final created.
The galleries that tramped the hilly Plainfield course in foul and fair weather for six days and applauded good golf shots regardless of who hit them were amply rewarded for their effort. They got a glimpse of the future—Cook, Hoch, Clampett, Peck and Player. That's right. Wayne Player, 16, Johannesburg, South Africa. Nice kid. Hits it a mile. Made it to the third round.