Courtesy: Ken Casey, GolfWeek
SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Of all the miracles he pulled this week at Rich Harvest Farms, Dawson Armstrong saved his best for last in the Western Amateur finals.
With opponent Aaron Wise 30 feet away for eagle on the second extra hole of the match and Armstrong in a front bunker well below the green and short-sided to a front pin, the situation wasn’t ideal.
But it was time to take action.
“My dad told me walking up to the bunker that I was due for a good shot this round,” Armstrong said. “He told me the hole before that you can’t wait for him to make a mistake. You have to go out there and make a shot.”
How about this? A furious blast, the ball lands 10 feet before the hole, bounces twice, hits the pin and drops for an eagle 3.
“My first reaction was, ‘Yes!’ and ‘Wow that actually went in?’ ” Armstrong said. “After that, I was thinking I just won the toughest amateur tournament in golf. Then I had to regroup because he could still tie.”
Wise indeed couldn’t match when his eagle try slid off to the left, and just like that Armstrong was the 113th Western Amateur champion.
It didn’t matter that the strike capitalized from a significant dose of good fortune. Armstrong was trying to land the shot in the front rough and admitted he hit it a tad further than anticipated. Along with hitting the pin and falling, he put the shot at 70 percent luck, 30 percent skill.
But a win’s a win and Armstrong – a virtual unknown and cinderella story all week – had to plow through maybe the toughest draw in match play to get the job done at Rich Harvest Farms. After Round of 16 opponent Harrison Endycott, the 19-year-old found himself needing to outdo amateur golf giants Jordan Niebrugge and Robby Shelton to advance to the final.
In that last match, he was up against one of the hottest amateur players in the world in Wise. The battle through the tough bracket only brought more joy to Armstrong in the end.
“Beating Jordan and Robby just spiked everything and made this tournament incredible,” Armstrong said. “And I’m honored and blessed to say that I’ve won this week.”
Fittingly, Dawson’s last hurdle was never easy and one of great drama until Wise’s attempt to tie slipped by.
The final match may have been the closest battle of the week, and one of great attrition.
Neither player ever led by more than one hole, and while no holes were halved between Nos. 6 and 14, they were mostly won by pars.
“I wasn’t playing as good as I had previously,” Wise said. “My shots weren’t quite as clean. I hung in there, though.”
Wise pointed to the combination of pressure, fatigue and hotter temperatures in explaining several loose shots that contributed to the sloppiness of the contest. Armstrong himself was partially drained from the morning semifinal against Shelton that he felt had the atmosphere of a championship bout itself.
All square through 16, the Armstrong-Wise showdown really got crazy.
Wise, an Oregon sophomore, parred 17 to take a 1-up lead and left himself 25 feet for eagle from the back fringe at the final hole.
With Armstrong just off the green and 85 feet away for his own eagle, he was done. The Lipscomb sophomore then nearly holed the putt, but it was still over.
That is until Wise inexplicably left his first putt on top of a ridge 10 feet short of the hole and couldn’t coax his resulting birdie effort into the cup.
“That eagle putt goes up and then straight downhill once it hits that ridge,” Wise said. “I left my first putt just short of the ridge, and it was right on the edge of going all the way down to the hole.”
Armstrong rolled in his 3-foot comebacker to extend a match he appeared dead in minutes earlier. On the first extra hole, Wise barely missed a 25-foot birdie effort to win the tournament. Fifteen minutes later, his fate was sealed.
In the end Wise failed to produce an epic back-to-back winning stretch at the Pacific Coast Amateur and Western Amateur. But he remains on fire of late.
For a man who once quit golf for two years in middle school, the heartbreaking fashion of his defeat won’t fester for long.
“That break in middle school made a big impact on who I am as a person, the way I think about things and go about things,” Wise said. “My mindset has become, while golf is a big part of my life, it’s not my whole life. I think I can rebound from this loss pretty well.”
As for Armstrong, his total absence in amateur golfing lore is no more. Maybe now observers will respect the Lipscomb sophomore’s burgeoning amateur record that includes Atlantic Sun Conference Newcomer of the Year honors, a T-2 at the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional and wins at the Dogwood Invitational and Western Amateur. Or at least they will appreciate the unrelenting positivity he brings to the golf course, an all-smiles approach apparent even in the tournament’s tense last hour. One will certainly long recall how he took down Shelton or outlasted Wise in a final four holes overflowing with drama and disbelief.
Oh, and lest we forget, Armstrong played his last hole of the tournament wondering whether he could even make it through.
“I was in extreme pain, there was a hard cramp in my stomach,” Armstrong said. “After that, it really took my focus off of what was going on in the match, because it went to ‘Am I going to finish?’ ”
Armstrong said he would’ve played one more hole after the second and then called in the paramedics to help determine if he could go on.
Luckily for him, he took care of business just in time. The legend of Dawson Armstrong is in full flight.