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The Most Improbable U.S. Amateur Win Ever?

The strange thing about Sunday's U.S. Amateur final featuring two lightly-decorated finalists: the quality of the golf was incredibly good.

On an abhorrent Rees Jones redesigned course with massive mounds, utterly artificial nonsense around everywhere you look and a fake lake thrown in too often to appease the EA video game crowd, the absurdly difficult Atlanta Athletic Club should have been a nightmare for Gunn Yang and Corey Conners. Yet they kept hitting bold and clutch shots, so all five of the people watching NBC's final USGA telecast were having a grand old time. Count me in, I was glued!

Ryan Lavner puts the absurdity of Yang's ascent into perspective:

Consider the odds: 6,803 entrants were whittled down to 312 qualifiers who advanced to the 64-man match-play bracket that was trimmed to two finalists, and the player who emerged victorious was Yang, a little-known 20-year-old from South Korea. This is a player who has played only four college events and lost his golf scholarship at San Diego State because of poor performance; who is only 15 months removed from back surgery; who withdrew from an event only three weeks ago because of shoddy play; and who, incredibly, is ranked No. 776 in the world, the lowest ever to hoist the Havemeyer Trophy.

“Obviously I want to go crazy,” he said, “but I’m doing an interview right now. I can’t go crazy right here. But I’m really happy about it.”

Nick Masuda says the SDSU scholarship issue has already been addressed.

Needless to say, Donovan's tactics worked to the tune of an improbable U.S. Amateur title Sunday afternoon at the Atlanta Athletic Club, holding off Corey Conners, 2 and 1, to become the second Korean-born champion in the last five years.

"Obviously the scholarship will be signed on tomorrow," Donovan said.

"(It) better. Or else I'm going to transfer," joked Yang, who will enter his sophomore collegiate campaign in just two weeks.

Yang is a tad rough around the edges, as this trophy handoff from USGA President Tom O'Toole demonstrated. Though in Yang's defense, once they hand you the trophy and you aren't very accomplished, you do want to keep both hands on it! Not the Billy-Bubba missed shake, but a nice runner-up.

Adam Schupak on winner Yang's bag, which includes a nice mix of clubs.

Pete Kowalski's official USGA game story.

And the USGA photo gallery from Sunday's thriller.

Dave Shedloski talks to Conners, who has something more closely resembling a golfing resume, about the issues he faces returning to school or turning pro. His part in the Canadian National Team makes it an easy choice and Conners hopes to enjoy exemptions into the Masters and U.S. Open, then start building toward an Olympic berth in 2016.

The telecast, which ended rather meekly on NBC Sports Network, included this farewell to 12 years of NBC-USGA partnership. Thanks to reader Phil for the link to this YouTube clip of the modest send off.

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Reader Comments (35)

I was glued to it too. That up and down by Yang on 15 (33) was ridiculous. Best tournament of the year, or at least my favorite. I only wish the Olympics would notice.
08.17.2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike U
Back surgery?
08.17.2014 | Unregistered Commenterhighside
Although he ties the hole to lose, Conners shot to the 192 yds Par 3 17th wins my vote for Shot of the Year. Yang was about 15 ft at moist from the pin and Conners left his tee shot inside that! Brilliant drama. Flicking between LPGA heartbreaking meltdown by BL and US Am restored my love of golf.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterIrish Golf Nut
Is that O'Toole or Ralphie from A Christmas Story?
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreenwichGolfer
I enjoyed seeing two golfers who are less heralded in the finals, as opposed to young guns primed to turn pro. Both will definitely play at the majors they now qualify for. How do a couple of lesser lights get to the final day? Match play.

The handshake thing doesn't bother me a bit. It's like the two guys going for a high five and missing hands. In such an emotional moment I would probably make the same mistaken move. It reflects the spontaneity of a non-rehearsed, non-choreographed, i.e., real moment.

Regarding the course, the announcers kept referring to the relationship of Bob Jones and the Atlanta Athletic Club. Jones probably had little to do with the current locale as the AAC was at East Lake for most of his life, a detail conveniently omitted.

"What an incredible Cinderella story, this unknown comes outta no where to lead the pack . . . "
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commentergov. lepetomane
Did the Championship end before 6pm edt?
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterJ Mike
One of the worst torture chamber courses I've seen on television. Next year will feature the polar opposite: the two old school classics at Olympia Fields in Chicago.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Yeah, Gov. Kinda like when I went to the Wyndham website to check scores (the new and improved is unwatchable and unusable on this iPad; btw, does anyone really care who or what is trending on social re the PGA TOUR) and learned that Sam Snead was an 8-time champion of the Wyndham. Not so much. Jones said his loyalties were to AAC, not the course at East Lake, and he was supportive of the move north. I don't think he lived to see the course completed. Besides, in his last years he probably spent more time at Peachtree, which is closer to his house in Buckhead.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
Any chance GC will rebroadcast? I thought the rain delay had scrubbed the afternoon round.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commentergreg
Yang might have missed a hand shake with poor Tom, but right after he deftly praised his opponent in victory which smooths out any Shackeledges in my book!
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
@GG, good one, even has the mannerisms.

@KLG, I give up on as well. Yesterday it took at least 7 minutes to "run scripts" before I could scroll down and look at scores. And that is everytime.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
Golf Channel app for scores on people
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmen Coroner
Ah... the "beauty" of match play. Where a golfer with no history of real success can have one single hot week and emerge the champion. Seriously: if this were contested at 72 holes stroke play would we have crowned a fluke winner? (With all due respect to Gunn who rose to the occasion -- THIS week.)

KLG, you've hit upon my ultimate pet peeve: Golf Channel's retroactive "re-naming" of PGA events. I'm sure Sam Snead would be pleased to learn that he won the "Wyndham" eight times.... funny, since the company DIDN'T EVEN EXIST when he was in his prime.

Oh, and about Atlanta Athletic Club? Greens that run at 13 on the Stimp should only be used for roller skating... NOT fearful, tentative golf.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBenSeattle
Harv - Same here with the "new" Some web developer should probably lose their job over that garbage.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy
Anyone think Tom O'Toole looks like a grown up Ralphie from Christmas Story movie!!??
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterGeorgia
Frankly Geoff I'm disgusted by your comments about our wonderful AAC courses, which we members love and cherish with a passion. Makes Augusta the 3rd best course in GA in our (biased) opinion. When did you last play here I wonder ? As a 14 year member no need to remind me to invite you to our upcoming member guest.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterAtlanta Al
O'Toole looks more like Owen Davian to me.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterD. maculata
Winners of the US Amateur at 72 holes stroke play:
Bob Murphy
Gary Cowan
Bob Dickson
Bruce Fleisher
Steve Melnyk
Lanny Wadkins
Gary Cowan (again)
Vinny Giles
Unpredicted doesn't mean fluke. Anyway, I count one and only one professional Major among this august group, from a galaxy a long time ago and far, far away...when there were about 2000 entries versus the 7000+ of today.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
Sorry Al, just not my kind of design in any version nor would I advocate anyone look to it for architectural inspiration. I saw the course after the first Rees Jones redo of his dad's work. Haven't seen it since the second touching up with the new turf.
08.18.2014 | Registered CommenterGeoff
KLG, I appreciate your attempt at making a point but 1) eight years is hardly a representative sample and 2) each of these stroke-play winners had successful professional careers, with the exception of Gary Cowan who remained an amateur until age 52.

Check the results of Amateur winners from 1981. Only majors winners are Woods, Mickelson and Leonard over a MUCH longer period. More telling are the champions who never even SNIFFED a win on the PGA Tour.

2010 Peter Uihlein
2009 An Byeong-hun
2008 Danny Lee
2007 Colt Knost
2006 Richie Ramsay
2005 Edoardo Molinari
2004 Ryan Moore
2003 Nick Flanagan
2002 Ricky Barnes
2001 Bubba Dickerson
2000 Jeff Quinney
1999 David Gossett
1998 Hank Kuehne
1997 Matt Kuchar
1996 Tiger Woods
1995 Tiger Woods
1994 Tiger Woods
1993 John Harris
1992 Justin Leonard
1991 Mitch Voges
1990 Phil Mickelson
1989 Chris Patton
1988 Eric Meeks
1987 Billy Mayfair
1986 Buddy Alexander
1985 Sam Randolph
1984 Scott Verplank
1983 Jay Sigel
1982 Jay Sigel
1981 Nathaniel Crosby
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBenSeattle
I don't like pretentious celebrity chef food most times.
But if the members do like it, isn't there room for a course like AAC?

Same with the Madison club. never hear about the quality of golf architecture
there, but a lot of people love the experience of going there.

First tim I went to LACC (before the redo) I thought it was very over rated.
To each their own
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commenterconfused
I recently played AAC, as well as East Lake and some other swanky clubs in and around ATL. I love the vibe of AAC and the members are fantastic. However, the big course was one of the least enjoyable rounds I've played on a famous championship course. Too long, too hard. 15 and 18 were the only holes that were memorable. And I thought 15 was silly. Didn't like the manufactured look of the water hazards, either.

East Lake, on the other hand, has the strange corporate vibe and is a challenge, but a blast to play. Can recall every hole there.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterGinGHIN
Atlanta Al,

I appreciate the defense of your home course but you can't really think your course(s) are among the best in GA can you? Great club, great amenities and Riverside is pretty but if you think either course is good golf, to borrow a Tom Doak line, you just don't understand what good golf really is.

Good isn't crepe myrtles lined up in rows in order to "soften" ridiculous looking mounding. Who planted those trees? Looks like a row of toy soldiers set up by an eight year old--or the landscape crew at a Post Apartments got the job! Good isn't three long par threes over water defended by the same stone wall in front and bright white bunkers. The most repetitve and banal second shots I have ever seen. Almost every green surrounded by two or three squigly bunkers requiring the exact same shots--if you want to get a feel of AAC Highlands, play #1, quit and visulize what you just did for the next four hours. For most players I assume its driver, long iron, chip, putt. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The front nine of Highlands (built by Joe Finger in the 70's) still is a cow pasture that doesn't remotely fit in with the back nine.

Again, great club, great history (and thank your lucky stars Bob Jones' letter convinced the USGA to waste an Open pick on your '76 edition) fantastic facilities but the courses are absolutely vapid.

If you want to hang out at a great club, get lost in the incredible history of the Bob Jones room and have great lake front views of annuals and crepe myrtles, this place is awesome. For great golf there must be a dozen more interesting and fun places to play. Easily.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterDblBogey
@Ben, thanks for the AM list, I was thinking about that recently. How about the finalist losers? That will bring back some memories, like when Bob Lewis got blisters and could barely walk, against I think Hal Sutton? I love the US Am but not sure the best amateur in the country or world is necessarily winning it, but that's ok I guess. I remember when Crosby won the AM, had several good friends who played on the same team as him in college and I don't think he ever played higher than 3 or 4 on the team.

By the way, what the hell has happened to Jeff Quinney?
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
Look at the Western Am if you want to see major winners. Jack, Phil, Curtis, Crenshaw, Leonard, Tiger, etc. format is 72 holes stroke play then thee days of elimination 18 hole matches. Not too many fluke winners there.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Harv, a Texas buddy of mine recently picked up a game in Forth Worth with a fellow named John Grace. You may remember him as the runner-up to Jerry Pate's U.S. Amateur victory back in 1974. My friend said that 66-year-old Grace was about 5-6, maybe 140 pounds... BUT he never missed a fairway, never missed a green and shot the easiest 4-under par 68 ever seen. I guess if you can play... you can PLAY.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBenSeattle
I believe John Grace lost to Vinny Giles in the finals of the US Senior Am a few years back so definitely a player.

Your story on Grace reminds me of something that happened to a friend of mine at a member-guest about 10 or 15 years ago. In a practice round they joined up with two other guys and the guys asked if they wanted to play a match. My friend, a really good player, heard that one of the guys had a plus handicap and then saw him line up 30 yards to the right of the target. He said the guy looked like a complete hack. Shot after shot he lined up 30 yards right of the target and proceeded to make four straight birdies. Finally my friend asked the other guy who the hell this clown was. It was Jim Stuart from Georgia, who had won two consecutive US Mid-Ams in the 80's. Didn't look like much but could play.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commenterol Harv
Grace was beat in the Senior Am final by Vinny Giles, his Walker Cup teammate. I saw it happen. The match ended with a 20 foot downhill putt on 18. Great friends across the decades who took it to the "last" hope. In a word, epic!
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
Last hole, not hope...

08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commentertlavin
5 years of Gunn's recent golf education was in melbourne sandbelt

spent 5 years at Kingswood peninsula golf club, coached in melbourne
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commenterandrew
Post Apartments. Now, that's funny.

Followed homeboy Jim Stuart on Masters Tuesday in 1986, I think it was. Yes, he could play.

Ben, except for the few you mention, looks like a similar list given the relative lengths of both. As for the 8 years, that's all we got. You might update us on the professional career of Vinny Giles (not as a lawyer/agent). I missed it. An explanation of why the USGA switched back to the inferior format would be appreciated, too, while you're at it.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
'abhorrent' is a little unfair! Come out and play it next time you are in ATL Geoff.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered Commenteraor
In the pre-world rankings days of 1981, I would hold that Nathaniel Crosby's win was a more improbable champion than the win by Yang this year.

And the only thing those lists of winners indicates is that professional golf is a different beast from amateur golf, and only those rare greats excel at both.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterBShamleffer
That list makes me think of the Heisman winners over the years...professional game is a different animal.
08.18.2014 | Unregistered CommenterWJ
to quote a couple of the naysayers above:

"Too long, too hard"....apparently you didn't notice when they played a bunch of the tees (including the par 3's) up, even way up to the "white tee" distance. Both courses offer a bunch of different options off the tee. Wow, isn't it amazing that the USGA wanted to test a bunch of different shots/thought processes for the players??

"Good isn't three long par threes over water defended by the same stone wall in front"

Apparently you didn't notice that #4 has water left of the hole, #15 has it right of the hole and #17 in front of the hole.Yes, depending on the pin position, that water can also be in front of the hole but then there is that whole shot making/shot shaping thing that the best golfers can employ.

Seriously, none of you guys seem to have talked to the players, caddies, coaches families etc, many of whom have been to several US Am venues and most of whom were praising the club and both of its courses

See Nathan Smiths comments here:
08.19.2014 | Unregistered Commenterc

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