By Ken Klavon, USGA
Tulsa, Okla. – Bud Cauley put in two grueling days of stroke-play qualifying for this?
||In what likely will be his final U.S. Amateur, Rickie Fowler dropped the first two holes before challenging Walker Cup teammate Bud Cauley in an intense match. (John Mummert/USGA)
Guess a 142 two-day total doesn’t provide much of a breather these days. Not when your opponent is another elite amateur, Rickie Fowler. Not when his local Oklahoma State University roots were, more or less, a subliminal invite for support at Southern Hills Country Club. So many people followed that the match looked more like a 36-hole final than a first-round encounter.
On Tuesday night, Cauley had just made himself comfortable at his hotel when he turned on his computer. He needed to know what Wednesday first-round opponent stood in his way at the 109th U.S. Amateur.
He became the unlucky soul who draws the short straw and has to retrieve the loafer that fell in the lion’s den.
"I looked on the computer and saw, and 30 seconds later he buzzed my phone,” said a smiling Cauley after posting a 3-and-1 win. “He said, 'It's on!' I told him you better bring everything you got.”
The match featured the No. 5 versus 60 seed. For all intents and purposes, those numbers are worth as much as a piece of lint. The match was as marquee as they get, illuminated by two of the top amateurs in the country. They were separated by only three shots in stroke play.
What’s more, they are Walker Cup buddies, having been selected to play for the USA squad when it takes on Great Britain & Ireland Sept. 12-13 at Merion Golf Club. They’ve known each other a long time from their junior days before becoming reacquainted a couple weeks ago at Merion when the eight selected golfers practiced for three days.
Cauley decided to take a sanguine approach. In match play, he thought, chances are the best are going to pop up at some point. So why not now?
“I had to change my game plan a bit,” said Cauley of Jacksonville, Fla. “You can’t just go out and make pars with him.”
On another typical furnace-hot Oklahoma summer day, the stout 19-year-old Cauley, scheduled to graduate from the University of Alabama in 2012, did little more than show up in taking a 2-up lead after the first two holes. That’s because Fowler bogeyed and double bogeyed those holes.
“I was a little awful,” said the soft-spoken Fowler, 20, of Murrieta, Calif., who shot the equivalent of one under (with match-play concessions) after that.
With Alabama golf coach Jay Seawell on his bag, Cauley felt relaxed and had the benefit of the one person who might know his game best. (Note: the NCAA gave Seawell permission to act as a caddie in this case). Cauley’s driving and ball-striking were crisp; his putter on when he needed it.
Seawell was a late substitution after Todd Hamilton’s caddie had to back out at the last moment when Hamilton qualified for the PGA Tour’s first FedEx Cup playoff event this week in Jersey City, N.J. Seawell, who had four Alabama players in the field at this U.S. Amateur, was scheduled to leave Wednesday evening to celebrate his daughter’s ninth birthday.
“Like any great player, Bud knows how to control his motor,” said Seawell. “Not just on the physical side, but also mentally too.”
Fowler pushed Cauley as if the two were playing a Walker Cup singles match. “I think it was a good warm-up for both of us,” said Fowler.
On the 372-yard ninth hole, which cuts back toward the clubhouse, Cauley was too strong with a short iron and overshot the green. He had a near-impossible lie on a hill. Trickier still, he had to finesse a lazy chip on the slope, hoping that the ball would grab. Instead, the ball plopped short of the hole but the green wouldn’t hold it. He had to concede and Fowler got within one hole.
Little did either know it then, but that’s as close as Fowler would get. Fowler misread the break on an 8-foot putt on No. 11, which would have won the hole. He also survived a blown opportunity by Cauley on No. 14 when his 5-footer to win burned the edge of the hole.
It didn’t matter. Cauley made up for it on the next hole. As soon as he put a level stroke on a 30-foot birdie putt, he started raising his left arm. When it dropped in, he balled his fist into a mini pump.
“I had hit my mark and knew it was good,” said Cauley.
Added Fowler: “He didn’t make many big mistakes. He made some big putts.”
Fowler knew he’d have to press with three holes to go. His drive off the 355-yard 17th hole should have been an ominous sign that his pursuit would hit a dead end. His ball vanished into trees. Fowler was left with an awkward stance and an uncomfortable attempt to punch out. A half swing later, his ball plunked in a nearby stream. With Cauley nearly driving the green, Fowler simply picked up his ball after the penalty and conceded.
And like that, Fowler’s last Amateur ended in disappointment. He plans on turning professional after the Walker Cup, foregoing his final two years of college.
In case it means anything, he’s the lone Walker Cup survivor after Fowler, Brian Harman, Morgan Hoffmann, and Nathan Smith were eliminated Wednesday.
For Cauley, he’ll take the voyage toward the Havemeyer Trophy by himself.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.