Birdies Prove Decisive in Finals of U.S. Amateur
Danny Lee, 18, has long had a dream to win the U.S. Amateur Championship, and on Sunday he made it come true at Pinehurst No. 2.
On the 32nd hole of the championship match, Lee, the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world, won the 2008 U.S. Amateur 5 and 4 over Drew Kittleson when he rammed home a 32-foot birdie putt. One month past his 18th birthday, Lee, a resident of New Zealand, is now the youngest winner of the event in its illustrious 108-year history and joins a legendary list of former champions that includes the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, Francis Ouimet and E. Harvie Ward.
"This was my third year in the U.S. Amateur," Lee said, "and I am so excited that I don't know what else to say right now."
After carding a 66 in the morning (34-32) to take a 5-up lead into the lunch break, he began where he left off in the afternoon, with a birdie-par start to take a 6-up edge after 20 holes.
All indications led to a Lee blow-out victory. However, Kittleson made an awe-inspiring run that completely changed the character of the match.
Kittleson won the next four of the next five holes to move to 2-down. The run was highlighted by a chip-in eagle from 22 yards on the par-4 seventh hole, the 25 hole of the match.
"I felt like Tiger Woods for a second," said Kittleson. "The crowd got real loud and I looked around and I thought, 'Wow, there's a lot of people yelling right there.'"
Lee was not surprised that Kittleson made a charge.
"I knew he was a good player," Lee said, "because he made it to the finals here. When he made that chip-in I knew I had to play well, keep focused on my game and make birdies."
Kittleson got no closer. Lee regained control of the match with a birdie on the 27th hole to push his advantage to 3-up entering the final nine holes.
After the match, Kittleson modestly tipped his hat to Lee.
"He played awesome," Kittleson said. "I don't think he missed one putt inside 15 feet and that is what you have to do to win a championship, I guess.
"I mean what are you going to do -- I think I was 5-under through eight and only picked up two holes on him. I went birdie-birdie to go 3-down, chip in for eagle to get to 2-down, then tie with another birdie and he turns around and birdies the next two (holes).
"There is just not much you can do about it. It was really kind of fun to watch. He was just making everything -- he just poured it in."
Kittleson and Lee put on an astounding exhibition for the grand finale of an exceptional week of golf at Pinehurst. For the day Lee was 11-under-par and Kittleson was 5-under, despite carding a two-over 37 on the back nine in the morning.
"I played well," said Lee. "I played really, really well today, that is all I can say. I don't think I can play any better than this. I played perfect golf."
Although Kittleson's comeback bid fell short, he chose to focus on the positives.
"It was a blast," said the runner-up, "and I am going to look back on this week and just know that I enjoyed it and that it is the biggest thing out there.
"If there is one tournament you would want to finish second in, this is definitely it. It has the most benefits, that is for sure. I had an unbelievable time -- I truly lived the dream for the whole week."
Both the Amateur winner and runner-up customarily play in the following year's Masters and the U.S. Open, which is being held in 2009 at Bethpage Black.
Lee returned to New Zealand this week to finish high school, with his sights set on making a big splash in professional golf.
"I am going to get ready for the big Majors," he said, "The Masters and U.S Open."
Contact F.W. Manning II by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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