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
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
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.