SUGAR GROVE, Ill. (Aug. 8, 2015) … On the second hole of a sudden death playoff, Dawson Armstrong holed a 20-yard bunker shot for eagle Saturday to win the 113th Western Amateur in the most dramatic fashion in memory.Armstrong’s stunning shot from the sand fronting the par 5 second hole at Rich Harvest Farms meant that his opponent, Aaron Wise, needed to hole his 25-foot putt to match Armstrong’s 3 to continue the playoff.
But Wise’s putt slid by, and when it did Armstrong fell into the arms of his father, Dale Armstrong, a former mini-tour player who caddied for his son during the two-day match play segment of the championship.
“When we got up there, my dad told me, ‘You’ve had a lot of great shots but none have gone in. Let’s try to knock this in,’ “ Armstrong said. “I was just trying to land it barely over the ridge and trickle it, hopefully, through the rough. It was going to have to be a lucky shot, and it was extremely lucky.
“I ran up about two feet, saw it hit the pin and drop in, and that was really neat.”
It was only the second time Armstrong’s father ever had caddied for him, and the first in about five years. On Friday, Dawson said he graded his father’s efforts as a “C,” but by Saturday’s finale he had improved to an “A.
“I’m hoping he won’t ever forget that, because I know I won’t,” Dawson said of their experience. “It was really fun.”
In his morning semifinal match, Armstrong defeated Alabama All-American Robby Shelton, the highest ranked player remaining in the field, 2 and 1. In their match, Armstrong holed a pitch shot for a 2 on the par 3 13th, one of three straight birdies that led to his victory.
Wise had an opportunity to win Saturday afternoon’s back-and-forth struggle when he got up and down for par out of a greenside bunker at the 17th hole to go 1-up as Armstrong bogeyed.
Wise appeared ready to close out the match when he put his second shot on the par 5 18th a few inches onto the back fringe moments after Armstrong’s second landed in the fringe right of the green about 90 feet away.
But Armstrong putted from the fringe to four feet, grazing the hole. Wise’s 25-foot uphill putt died at the top of a ridge eight feet from the hole, leaving him a grinding downhiller that he slid two feet past. He lost the hole and the match was back to all-square.
“On the back of the green on 18, that putt plays really hard,” Wise said. “It goes up and then straight down. I left it just short of the ridge , but my second putt I hit maybe four or five inches and it rolled a foot and a half past.”
The two parred the first playoff hole moments before the fireworks on No. 2.
Armstrong, 19, of Brentwood, Tennessee and a sophomore at Lipscomb University, a Division I school in Nashville, came into the championship ranked No. 115 by Scratch Players. Five weeks ago he won the Dogwood Invitational yet was under the radar. He led the medal play segment of the tournament after the second round.
Wise, 19, of Lake Elsinore, California and a sophomore at Oregon, was ranked 96th before winning last week’s Pacific Coast Amateur, which boosted him to No. 40 worldwide.
Earlier in the day, Wise defeated Jake Knapp 4 and 2 in their semifinal match. He also set the course record in round two of medal play with an 8-under 64.
Armstrong’s name now goes on the prestigious George R. Thorne trophy along with those of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and other champions who have combined to win 76 major championships as professionals.
“I knew Tiger and Jack [had won the Western Amateur] and I knew about the 70 majors, or something like that,” Armstong said. “It was an honor to be able to say I had an opportunity to play this week.
In his quarterfinal match on Friday, Armstrong defeated highly-ranked Jordan Niebrugge, who tied for sixth last month at the British Open, in a competition Armstong called “a David and Goliath thing.” He was referring to himself as David.
“Beating Jordan [Niebrugge] and Robby [Shelton] in back-to-back matches just spiked everything, and just made this week incredible. Regardless if I won or lost, and the fact that I won in such fashion was just incredible.”
– Barry Cronin