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Ogletree overcomes tough start to win US Amateur championship at Pinehurst

Andy Ogletree poses with the Havemeyer Trophy following his win at the USGA Amateur Golf Championship at the Pinehurst Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C., Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Andy Ogletree poses with the Havemeyer Trophy following his win at the USGA Amateur Golf Championship at the Pinehurst Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C., Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) AP

Andy Ogletree’s Twitter bio simply says “Georgia Tech golf.” That’s it. No extras.

Maybe that’s a tipoff. Ogletree, soon to be a senior at Tech, comes across as a no-frills kind of player and person, simply and quietly going about his business on the golf course. No talking to the ball. Few if any histrionics.

But Ogletree can now add “2019 U.S. Amateur champion” to that bio. Recovering from a staggering start in the scheduled 36-hole championship match at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, he fought back to top Vanderbilt golfer John Augenstein 2 and 1 and claim the Amateur’s Havemeyer Trophy.

Ogletree, from Little Rock, Miss., finished it off with a par 3 at the 17th hole on the historic Pinehurst No. 2 course. The state of Mississippi had its first U.S. Amateur champion. Georgia Tech now has three: Bobby Jones, Matt Kuchar and Ogletree.

“I showed a lot of resilience and never gave up,” Ogletree said. “I kept telling myself, ‘I’m going to win this tournament.’ I always believed that.”

After losing four of the first five holes of the match and still 4-down after 11 holes, Ogletree kept grinding in the sun and the heat. He was 2-down after the first 18 holes, played on the No. 4 Course, and did not square the match until the 13th hole on Pinehurst No. 2 in the afternoon round -- the 31st of the match.

On the 319-yard par-4, Ogletree played conservatively off the tee while Augenstein used a driver, reaching the greenside bunker. Ogletree wedged to 3 feet for a winning birdie when Augenstein was unable to get up-and-down from the sand for his birdie, missing an 8-footer.

A winning par at the par-4 14th gave Ogletree his first lead of the match. That came after a poor drive by Augenstein, a senior at Vandy from Owensboro, Ky., whose path to the title match included a victory over Akshay Bhatia, the 17-year-old from Wake Forest ranked as the fifth-best amateur in the world.

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John Augenstein hits off the tee on the eighth hole during the final round against Andy Ogletree at the USGA Amateur Golf Championship at the Pinehurst Country Club , in Pinehurst, N.C, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019, (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) Karl B DeBlaker AP

A scrambling par at the 16th, where Ogletree bunkered his drive and his second shot but made a 6-foot putt to halve the par-4 hole, had him firing off a quick fist pump, a rare show of emotion. A hole later, he was the champion as Augenstein three-putted and bogeyed.

“I learned I can handle the pressure, can handle the heat,” Ogletree said. “I hit some really good shots down the stretch and kept the pressure on John.”

Both players secured berths on the 2019 U.S. Walker Cup, it was announced Sunday night. “That was a major goal,” Augenstein said.

After winning their semifinal matches Saturday, both will have invites to the 2020 Masters. The Masters’ defending champion traditionally is paired with the U.S. Amateur champ, which should put Ogletree in Tiger Woods’ group.

“I can’t imagine what that first tee shot will be like,” Ogletree said.

How’s that for a perk? And Ogletree, 21, also will compete in the 2020 U.S. Open and British Open.

For the first time in U.S. Golf Association history, the Amateur championship match was played on two courses -- a curious decision in that all the matches leading up to the final were on No. 2 and it’s one of the world’s best layouts.

But Pinehurst is showcasing the No. 4 Course and its extensive redesign by Gil Hanse, and the course was used along with No. 2 in the two stroke-play qualifying rounds. Off the first tee on No. 4 went Augenstein and Ogletree on Sunday morning.

They call Augenstein “Flash” at Vandy and he looked the part the first five holes of the match. He won the second hole with a par, then the third, fourth and fifth holes with birdies in surging to the 4-up lead, and was 5-under for the first 18 holes.

“I got off to the start you always want to get off to,” Augenstein said. “But even though I was 4-up through five, it’s 36 holes. If I was in his position I would be thinking the same thing, that there’s a lot of golf left. I was not complacent at all, thinking I’ve got this thing won.

“I fought my hardest. But he was super solid and really made no mistakes.”

Augenstein, 21, was 1 under par and Ogletree 7 over in their semifinal matches. Augenstein came into the week 38th in the World Golf Amateur Rankings -- Ogletree was No. 120 -- and went into Sunday’s match 17-3-1 in match play since the spring of 2017.

But match play can create quick, unexpected turns. A winning birdie at the 18th at No. 4 pulled Ogletree to within 2-down, and after a two-hour lunch break Ogletree birdied the first hole on No. 2.

“I played really well on No. 4 this morning and he snagged that putt at 18, which kind of flipped the momentum a little bit,” Augenstein said. “I think that’s an underrated turning point, him making that birdie at 18 and coming out to birdie the first hole as well (on No. 2).”

Said Ogletree: “The whole lunch break I was ready to go.”

Asked to describe his hometown of Little Rock, Ogletree noted it has fewer than 2,000 people (“It’s not even considered a city”) and no stoplights.

How do they celebrate a U.S. Amateur champion?

“There’s no telling but I’m sure there are a lot of cold beverages going down right now,” Ogletree said.

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