Past Champions

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Hank Kuehne, 22, of Dallas, Texas, won three consecutive holes on the last nine to build a 3-up advantage then hung on to narrowly defeat Tom McKnight, 44, of Galax, Va., 2 and 1 in the championship final of U.S. Amateur at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.

"This has been an unbelievable week for me," said the long-hitting Kuehne, a recovering alcoholic since 1995 and three-time All-American at Southern Methodist University who had advanced to match play for the first time in three attempts. "This is the second best thing that's ever happened in my life. The best was going to rehab. I can't explain how I feel right now. It hasn't sunk in yet, but I'm so happy that my family could be here to share this with me."

McKnight, a petroleum distributor and owner of convenience stores in southwestern Va., felt he let one slip away. He had fought back to win holes 32 and 33 with a par and birdie, closing the gap to a 1-hole margin only to bogey and be closed out by Kuehne's concession birdie 3 from eight feet on the 35th."

This is for all you old guys," said McKnight, a 10-time Amateur contestant who was aiming to become the oldest winner since 47-year-old Jack Westland won the title in 1952. "It felt like we were in a boxing match out there, taking each other's best shots. I guess I was the last one down on the mat."

It was unusual that only 11 of the 35 holes played were halved. Many of the early holes were won by Kuehne and McKnight was fortunate to be only three holes down after the morning round, considering that he hit only three greens and four fairways through the first 18 holes. His great putting saved him time and time again as McKnight used only 23 putts for his first 18 holes.

McKnight continued to one-putt as he began the afternoon round by making four birdies in the first six holes to take a 1-up lead through 24 holes, his first lead since the second hole of the morning. Kuehne squared the match with a winning par at hole 26, and then he built another 3-up lead after winning the 28th, 29th, and 30th holes with regulation pars. McKnight conceded a birdie 3 to Kuehne on the 35th hole to end the match."

I'm so happy that my brother was able to share this with me," said Kuehne, whose brother Trip, the 1994 Amateur runner-up to Tiger Woods, caddied for him during match play.

The Kuehnes now have four USGA titles. Sister Kelli won the 1994 U.S. Girls' Junior and the 1995 and 1996 U.S. Women's Amateur."

Henry's always been the most talented player in the family," said Trip without reservation. "He's always been so close to becoming something other than Trip and Kelli's brother, but something always seemed to hold him back. Today was his coming out party."

Both players advanced to the final without having to reach the 18th hole in five previous matches.

Kuehne, who posted one of the best 36-hole qualifying scores, even par 139, beat Byrce Molder of Conway, Ark., in a quarterfinal, 4 and 3. Then he ousted friend Bill Lunde of Henderson, Nev., in a semifinal, 6 and 5.

McKnight, who qualified with a 2-over 141 total, beat Sean Knapp of Oakmont, Pa., in his quarterfinal, 5 and 3. He upset reigning British Amateur champion Sergio Garcia of Spain in his semifinal, 3 and 1. Garcia had defeated defending champion Matt Kuchar of Lake Mary, Fla., in his quarterfinal, 2 and 1.Last year's runner-up Joel Kribel of Pleasanton, Calif. was the qualifying medalist with a 3-under total of 136. But J.J. Henry of Fairfield, Conn., the last to earn a place in a 10-for-9 playoff, defeated him in the first round, 2 and 1. The medalist has lost his first match in seven of the last 11 years.Other notables in the match play field of 64 were 18-year-old heart transplant recipient Erik Compton of Miami, Fla., and Andy Miller of Nap, Calif., Open champion Johnny Miller's son.A crowd of 10,500 watched the final, bringing the weeklong attendance to more than 45,000.The USGA accepted a near record 6,627 entries for the Championship, just 41 shy of the record figure in spite of lowering the Handicap Index by a point to 2.4.