By Alex Podlogar
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST – Well, it’s working.
Six months ago, Rice’s top player Mitchell Meissner, played the best he could play. From tee to green, he hit the ball better than he could remember. There was just one problem.
“I missed everything,” he says. “I couldn’t make a putt.”
Frustrated, angry and feeling – dare we say it? – yippy, Meissner got a tip from his coach:
Try putting left-handed.
With a couple of left-handers on the Owls, Meissner asked to borrow their putters on the practice green. Almost immediately, something clicked.
Yes, you’re seeing that correctly: Rice’s Mitchell Meissner, a semifinalist in the North & South Am, plays right-handed and putts left-handed. He’s 3up through 10. pic.twitter.com/6SumPLjEj8
— Pinehurst Resort (@PinehurstResort) June 28, 2018
Since then, Meissner has been on a tear. Already an accomplished player before making the drastic switch, he’s soared, becoming Rice’s all-time career winner. His run has continued through the summer, taking the Conference USA Championship before winning the Greater San Antonio Match Play in early June. Ten days ago, Meissner won the Texas Amateur, a championship that counts Ben Crenshaw, Mark Brooks, Scott Verplank and Bruce Leitzke among its past champions.
And now, after two wins on Thursday, Meissner is one match victory away from adding a Putter Boy trophy to his early summer collection. But it won’t be easy, as he will face All-SEC performer Ben Schlottman in the championship match of the 118th North & South Amateur on Friday morning on Pinehurst No. 2. (The match will be live-streamed on Pinehurst Resort’s Facebook page beginning around 8 a.m.)
“I’m pretty excited,” Meissner says. “It’s been a long few weeks, but it’s been a fun few weeks playing golf. I’ve played a lot of golf, but (No. 2) is really special. You have to be so strategic and come in with a specific gameplan, which is what I think I’m really good at.”
It helps that his mind is free again.
“Oh, I was a mental mess,” he says. “I was getting pretty nervy over 5-footers.”
It’s not that way anymore, as was evident on the 16th hole. Though he built a large lead over North Carolina’s Ryan Gerard throughout, Gerard began to apply some pressure late in the match. After his chip from the front of the green ran by 6 feet, Meissner faced a delicate putt back down the hill.
He settled comfortably over the ball, took one look at the cup and calmly rattled it in, eliminating Gerard 3 & 2.
“I’m not scared about making 6-footers anymore,” Meissner says.
Schlottman is anything but fearful on the golf course. While he had trouble off the tee against North Carolina senior Jose Montano, Schlottman was a master scrambler, finding ways to get up-and-down all day during his semifinal match.
That enabled Schlottman to build and keep a lead throughout the match, but when Montano made a late surge, Schlottman was able to fend him off – perhaps because he didn’t need his driver.
After trimming the deficit from three holes down to just one, Montano hit a nice shot into the par-3 15th. With the pressure on, Schlottman lofted a searing high fade with a 5 iron directly at the pin tucked in the back-right. The ball landed softly just 5 feet away, and after making the putt, Schlottman walked to the 16th tee 2-up.
But Montano won the 16th with a par – Schlottman lost his drive to the left – and after another errant drive on 18, Schlottman pulled his approach left of the green.
With Montano comfortably in the middle of the green, Schlottman deftly skidded a chip shot to a tough hole location in the back-left of the green, forcing Montano to make birdie to extend the match.
Montano’s putt lipped out, giving Schlottman, who made the match play field after surviving a 9-for-6 playoff on Tuesday, a berth in the championship match.
“It’s tough playing No. 2 for 36 holes in this heat,” Schlottman joked after the match Thursday. “Eighteen holes at 7 a.m.? That’s going to feel like a breeze.”
Still, there was work left to be done before Schlottman could call it a day.
“I’ve got to go to the range to figure out how to hit a fairway,” he said.
The Men’s North & South Amateur Championship is the longest consecutively-running amateur golf championship in the United States. Over the past century, the best amateurs in the world have vied for its coveted Putter Boy trophy. The winners now serve as legends in the game – among them Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III – and the championship continues to draw the best in amateur golf.
The Championship’s finals will be played at 7 a.m. on Friday. Admittance to all rounds is free to the public, which is encouraged to come watch.
118TH NORTH & SOUTH AMATEUR
Pinehurst No. 2
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
ROUND OF 32
No. 32 Brian Ohr d. No. 1 Cooper Musselman, 1up
No. 16 Ryan Gerard d. No. 17 Bryce Hendrix, 1up
No. 8 Zheng Kai Bai d. No. 25 Derek Busby, 5&4
No. 9 Zachard Bauchou d. No. 24 Evan Katz, 2up
No. 29 Patrick Cover d. No. 4 Josh Martin, 3&2
No. 13 Mitchell Meissner d. No. 20 Riley Casey, 1up
No. 5 Spencer Soosman d. No. 28 Joey Savoie, 3&1
No. 21 Joshua Gibson d. No. 12 Frankie Capan 2&1
No. 31 Ben Schlottman d. No. 2 Ben Shipp, 3&1
No. 18 Gray Townsend d. No. 15 Arthur Griffin, 1up
No. 26 Kyle Suppa d. No. 7 Ben Wong, 1up
No. 10 Ray Kraivixien d. No. 23 Blake Wagoner, 3&1
No. 30 Matt Hutchins d. No. 3 Alex Smalley, 20 Holes
No. 19 Sam Stevens d. No. 14 Jake Brown, 1up
No. 27 Jose Montano d. No. 6 Matthew Sharpstene, 2up
No. 11 Chris Yeom d. No. 22 Eric Bae, 19 Holes
ROUND OF 16
No. 16 Ryan Gerard d. No. 32 Brian Ohr, 2&1
No. 9 Zachary Bauchou d. No. 8 Zheng Kai Bai, 2&1
No. 13 Mitchell Meissner d. No. 29 Patrick Cover, 19 Holes
No. 5 Spencer Soosman d. No. 21 Joshua Gibson, 3&2
No. 31 Ben Schlottman d. No. 18 Gray Townsend, 4&3
No. 26 Kyle Suppa d. No. 10 Ray Kraivixien, 21 Holes
No. 19 Sam Stevens d. No. 30 Matt Hutchins, 4&2
No. 27 Jose Montano d. No. 11 Chris Yeom, 2&1
Thursday, June 28, 2018
No. 16 Ryan Gerard d. No. 9 Zachary Bauchou, 2&1
No. 13 Mitchell Meissner d. No. 5 Spencer Soosman, 4&3
No. 31 Ben Schlottman d. No. 26 Kyle Suppa, 1up
No. 27 Jose Montano d. No. 19 Sam Stevens, 1up
No. 13 Mitchell Meissner d. No. 16 Ryan Gerard, 3&2
No. 31 Ben Schlottman d. No. 27 Jose Montano, 1up
Friday, June 29, 2018
No. 13 Mitchell Meissner vs. No. 31 Ben Schlottman, 7 a.m.