The Western Golf Assn. went to its present format for its Western Amateur Championship in 1956,. Calling for 72 holes of stroke play qualifying and then four rounds of match play, the 110-year old tourney is one of the most grueling in golf and few players handled that immense challenge as well as Chris Williams did at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park.
Williams became only the 10th player to finish the 72 holes as solo medalist and then go on to become the tournament champion on Saturday. Among his predecessors in accomplishing that extraordinary feat were pro stars Ben Crenshaw (1973), Curtis Strange (1974), Scott Verplank (985) and Phil Mickelson (1991).
“It’s a lot of golf,’’ admitted Williams, following his 1-up victory over Jordan Russell in Saturday’s championship match. “I’m exhausted. I’m not going to touch a club for a week.’’
Williams, a senior at the University of Washington, has the equally prestigious U.S. Amateur coming up in two weeks, but he wasn’t thinking about that after Saturday’s rain-delayed match concluded at 6:07 p.m. Williams hit his first shot of the day at 7:30 a.m. and had to go 19 holes in his morning semifinals against Abraham Ancer to reach the final.
During the three-day stroke play portion, which ended on Thursday, Williams posted a tournament-record 17-under par. That bettered by one stroke the record he had set in 2011 at North Shore, in Glencoe.
“Last year I was just the medalist. This is surreal,’’ said Williams. “I played well in stroke play. There was no reason to doubt myself.’’
Ancer, though, took him to the limit in the morning. That semifinal swung Williams’ way when Ancer his hit tee shot out of bounds on the first hole of sudden death. And Russell had Williams 2-down early in the final. Then a birdie by Willams at No. 11 and a double bogey at No. 12 and bogey at No. 14 by Russell changed the momentum.
“That was unexpected. I thought he’d make some birdies, but that’s how match play goes,’’ said Williams.
Even with the letdown early in the back nine Russell had a chance to extend the match. He rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt at the 17th to get to one-down with one to play and he had an eight-foot birdie putt on the 18th that lipped out, ending the day-long drama provided by the four college stars who made it to the final day of the championship that started with 156 players.. Russell just graduated from Texas A&M, Ancer attends Oklahoma and Peter Williamson is a student at Dartmouth.
Russell needed a five-foot birdie putt on the second hole of sudden death to win his semifinal against Williamson before succumbing to Williams in the afternoon.
“Overall I’m very pleased with the week,’’ said Russell. “Chris was obviously on top of his game, but I made him earn it so I can’t be too disappointed.’’