Drew Versus Goliath in Am Final
Now that Drew Kittleson's golf game has finally caught up with his body, good things are happening.
All he has to do now is catch up with Danny Lee.
Kittleson and Lee meet in a 36-hole showdown at 8 a.m. today for the U.S. Amateur Championship, and while both are obviously on top of their games, Kittleson has to be considered the underdog.
Lee, on the verge of replacing Tiger Woods as the youngest winner of the national championship, is riding a three-week roll that has catapulted him to the No. 1 amateur ranking in the world. He won the Western Amateur, finished tied for 20th in the PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship in Greensboro last week and has pretty much breezed his way through the field here on the esteemed Pinehurst Resort No. 2 course.
Lee, who is returning to high school in New Zealand where he'll ponder a professional career, finally had to play the 16th hole in disposing of a stubborn Patrick Reed 3 and 2 in the semifinals Saturday.
Kittleson, a sophomore at Florida State, is enjoying a good year, too.
He was a member of the Seminoles' first Atlantic Coast Conference championship team and was on the All-ACC Academic Team. He earned the finals berth by ousting Adam Mitchell 4 and 2.
It was a black Saturday for the Georgia Bulldogs' Reed and Mitchell.
Mitchell, who made headlines on Thursday when he stunned college player of the year Rickie Fowler 5 and 4 in the third round, got off to a good start against Kittleson and was 2-up after five holes.
But Kittleson responded by winning holes six and nine, then took the lead on the par-5 10th. He moved further ahead with a win on 11 and put the match in a stranglehold by winning 14. He closed it out with the win on the long par-4 16th.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet that I'm in the finals," said Kittleson, who has just recently regained his form after a growth spurt forced him to alter his swing, "but it's pretty exciting. I've never met Danny. In fact, I've never even seen him hit a golf ball. I haven't even seen him all week. He's obviously playing very well."
Early in the match, Kittleson was concerned that Mitchell might have another magical round like the one on Friday when he holed an approach shot on the seventh hole for an eagle 2. This time he did it on the par-5 fourth.
"I was on the green with an eagle putt and Adam was about 100 yards out," Kittleson recalled. "He holed his wedge for an eagle and I missed my putt to go two down. I though, 'Uh-oh, here we go again.'"
A huge turning point came on the 11th hole after Kittleson had taken the lead on 10. "I hit my drive in the wire grass and then hit a good shot to about 10-12 feet," Mitchell said, "but I rolled my first putt about four feet past and then missed it coming back. We both hit the ball well today but it came down to the fact that he made his putts and I didn't.
"It's been a great week, but it's really hard to win this tournament. It's a lot of golf. It puts into perspective what Tiger Woods accomplished by winning three Junior Amateurs and three Amateur Championships in a row. There's no way that will happen again."
Lee had just closed out his match with Reed and was on the telephone with his mother in New Zealand despite the 16-hour time difference.
She was pretty excited," the calm 18-year-old said. "So was my dad." And so was Lee. Especially about receiving invitations to play in the U.S. Open and the Masters next year.
"That's going to be a great experience," he said. "There's no way I'm going to turn pro now until after that."
As for his match with Reed, Lee was satisfied despite having to go all the way through the 16th hole for the first time.
"We both played really well," he said, "and I just kept putting pressure on myself to keep it going."
"I played decent," the disappointed Reed said. "I gave myself a lot of chances and just tried to keep chipping away. I made a couple of putts, but Danny made more. He just didn't crack.
Asked if he considered himself the favorite in the finals against Kittleson, Lee shrugged it off.
"I don't actually care about this favorite stuff," he said. "I just go out and play the golf course."
Lee's toughest obstacle to overcome so far has been an aching left shoulder. He hurt it while warming up prior to Friday's round and, despite massage treatments and pain killers, still felt it on Saturday.
"I went to the hospital (Moore Regional) last night," he revealed, "and they did an X-ray and found nothing wrong with the bone. It's something with the muscle."
That's not surprising considering that he will be playing his 12th round of competitive golf in the past 13 days."
Contact Howard Ward at 867-6493 or 690-2211 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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