By Dave Shedloski
Tulsa, Okla. – Conventional wisdom dictates that playing from points other than the pristine fairways at Southern Hills Country Club is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, Dan Woltman added dashes of a sweet short game to salvage a palatable result in his first-round match in the 109th U.S. Amateur.
Woltman, 22, of Beaver Dam, Wis., lacked the precision off the tee that has served him well during a successful summer campaign, but he made up for some wild driving with well-played recoveries and putting and eventually outlasted Talor Gooch of Midwest City, Okla., 3 and 2, Wednesday afternoon.
The victory, secured with a conceded par on the 16th green, sent Woltman, one of the leading candidates for one of the two spots on the USA Walker Cup team, into a second-round match against Glenn Northcutt of Dothan, Ala., at 9:40 a.m. CDT Thursday.
“It was a weird day,” Woltman said.
Weird because he had been driving the ball well coming into the U.S. Amateur and during the 36-hole qualifying at Southern Hills and Cedar Ridge Country Clubs. And it was weird because the rest of his game was as solid as it was last week when he won the Wisconsin State Open.
“I came in here with a lot of confidence and momentum after last week, so it was a bit of a surprise that I had such a tough day with the driver,” Woltman said. “Luckily, my iron game was good and I scrambled very well.”
It was his scrambling that enabled him to turn an early deficit into a 2-up lead after four holes with key par saves at the third and fourth holes, the second of those thanks to a left-turning 15-footer. He did more of it to close the front nine with par saves after Gooch, one of seven Oklahoma products to make the 64-player match play competition, birdied the seventh hole to cut the deficit in half.
“I rolled in some putts when I needed to,” Woltman said.
True enough, but the match turned at the par-3 11th with Woltman never needing his putter. Gooch punched a 7-iron over the green on the 164-yard hole and his ball found the back bunker while Woltman’s approach settled 5 feet from the hole. Gooch splashed out decently, but the ball trickled down the slope, all the way through the green and into the front bunker. His third was unluckier still; it caromed off the flagstick, and he conceded Woltman’s putt to fall 2 down.
At the next hole, Woltman flared his drive behind a tree, but Gooch also missed the fairway to the right. Both men had to pitch back to safety, but Woltman was well away. He stuck his third from 145 yards with a pitching wedge to 4 feet while Gooch, from 90 yards, ended up in the back fringe. He missed his slick 12-footer while Woltman converted.
“That was a good U.S. Open-type four right there … or I guess it’s a U.S. Amateur four,” said Woltman, competing in his fourth U.S. Amateur, with a laugh. “Playing a golf course like this, an Open style layout, you face some very tough situations, and that was one where I really didn’t try to do too much, and it worked out.”
Said Gooch, 17, a senior at Carl Albert High School in Midwest City playing in his first U.S. Amateur: “That definitely was the point where I could see things not going my way. He gave me some openings and I didn’t take advantage, and he made some putts when he had to. Neither of us hit it very [well]. Frankly, I felt like I beat myself.”
Both men made a mess of the par-5 13th with Gooch laying up in the water and needing five to reach the green. Woltman, however, after another wayward drive, found the hollow short of the green with his approach and then muffed two flop shots to lose the hole with a double-bogey 7.
He escaped further damage, however, when Gooch lipped out for birdie at the par-3 14th and grazed the hole with a par-saving putt at 15 that restored Woltman’s 3-up advantage. The match ended when Gooch, after finding the left fairway bunker, flew his second shot over the green and then couldn’t get his third to stay on as the ball raced off the opposite edge. After missing his par chip, he conceded Woltman’s short bogey putt and the match.
Woltman, winner of the Northeast Amateur earlier this year with finishes in the top-10 in five of six events leading into the Amateur, was both relieved and hopeful after surviving such a trying day.
“It was a tough out there. I really had to work hard, but I can definitely take something good away from it,” Woltman said. “I’m still playing when I didn’t have my best day, so if I get my driver squared away – and I think I did that on the range right after the match – then I should be OK. I know I can’t play like I did today if I want to go deeper in this tournament.”
True enough. That’s the conventional wisdom.
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.usamateur.org.