By Alex Podlogar
PINEHURST, North Carolina – In recent Pinehurst history, the 17th hole of Pinehurst No. 2 has played a pivotal part in identifying its newest champion.
On Sunday in the 1999 U.S. Open, Payne Stewart made his birdie putt moments after Phil Mickelson missed his, giving Stewart a critical one-shot edge heading to the 18th tee.
At the 2005 U.S. Open, Tiger Woods’ Sunday charge was officially stalled after a bogey preceded a clutch birdie by Michael Campbell – more on Campbell later – at 17.
And in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, Michelle Wie essentially clinched her first major championship by holing a slick putt that rode the ridge down the spine of 17’s treacherous green.
None of those shots, though, might’ve been better than William Nottingham’s in the championship match of the 117th North & South Amateur on Friday.
Moments after sinking a perilous 8-foot par putt on 16 to halve the hole right after opponent James Anstiss had made his own 9-footer for par, Nottingham arched a high 6 iron against the darkening sky and watched as the ball settled softly on the green and slid just inches by the cup, coming at rest 4 feet above the hole.
While Anstiss himself hit a nice tee shot to about 12 feet – reminiscent of Mickelson’s answer to Stewart – Anstiss couldn’t will his sidewinding attempt to fall. Nottingham, though, managed to nestle his putt into the hole, taking his first lead of the match.
A brief rain delay and a bit of a mess of the 18th hole later, No. 2’s 17th again proved to be the difference as Nottingham, of Kingsport, Tennessee, rallied from 2-down at the turn to beat Anstiss, of New Zealand, 1 up.
“This tournament means a lot, for sure,” Nottingham said. “Reading about all of the people who have won this tournament, to go into the locker room and see all the cool names who have won this tournament, it’s just really special for me to be a part of that and to have my name on the wall with some of those people.”
Nottingham battled his driver throughout the championship match, but managed to not only recover with crucial par putts, but also fight his way back into the match because of them. While Anstiss lost his lead by failing to get up and down at critical points, Nottingham made big par putt after big par putt, starting with a 10-footer on 9 that kept him 2 down, and culminating with the biggest one on 16.
Nottingham credited a methodical alignment approach that he only recently went back to as making the difference on No. 2’s storied greens.
“I had changed up my putting a little bit, lining up the ball the way I used to,” he said. “I noticed early in the week that, ‘Dang, I’m reading these greens really well.’ So I knew if I could just hit my spots and get good speed on it, I knew I could make a good amount of putts.”
As rain began to pour down after Nottingham’s birdie on 17, both players fanned their drives well to the right of the 18th fairway. Walking to their balls, tournament officials suspended play to wait out about a 15-minute downpour.
Neither player had much of a shot into the 18th, though Anstiss managed to place his ball a few yards short of the green. Nottingham’s approached actually struck the lip of the bunker, but he found the middle of the green with his third shot.
Anstiss made a nice pitch to about 4 feet above the cup on 18, and when Nottingham couldn’t connect from about 40 feet, Anstiss had a chance to send the match into extra holes with a par. But his putt slid by on the right edge, and Nottingham, a rising sophomore at Clemson, was the 117th North & South Champion.
“Obviously it wasn’t the result I wanted,” Anstiss said, “but I can take a lot from this going forward. It’s a great stepping stone in my career.”
Anstiss, a native of New Zealand who spent much of his time in Pinehurst admiring the photographs and memorabilia of Campbell’s 2005 triumph in the clubhouse’s hall, received a call from the fellow Kiwi following the match. Campbell had been following the match on Twitter from Spain, hoping to add Anstiss to a Kiwi-Pinehurst connection that includes Danny Lee’s win at the 2008 U.S. Amateur.
“Us Kiwis, it’s one of our favorite hunting grounds, Pinehurst is,” Campbell could be heard telling Anstiss. “Look at the big picture here – it’s a stepping stone to your career. It’s a great start. Learn from your mistakes because, as you know with golf or any sporting career, you’re going to fall down. That’s just the way it is.”
Anstiss was moved by the call.
“That was pretty awesome, and pretty unexpected,” Anstiss said. “That’s not a bad consolation prize. Michael just told me to keep my head high and focus on all of the positives of the week.”
“New Zealand has never stood out as a golfing nation, but having a major champion, to see his memorabilia up there at a place like Pinehurst, is just so special,” Anstiss added. “For me to say I’m from the same country, it’s a pretty big deal.”
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.
117th North & South Amateur Championship
Pinehurst No. 2
June 28, 2017
Round of 32
No. 32 Zachary Bauchou d. No. 1 Cameron Champ, 3&1
No. 16 Austin Squires d. No. 17 Chase Hanna, 1up
No. 8 Spencer Soosman d. No. 25 Austin Hitt, 1up
No. 9 Christopher Crawford d. No. 24 Andrew Huseman, 4&2
No. 29 Eric Bae d. No. 4 Jonathan Hardee, 1up
No. 13 Ty Strafaci d. No. 20 William Register, 19 holes
No. 28 Zander Lozano d. No. 5 Ryan Dornes, 2&1
No. 12 James Anstiss d. No. 21 Michael Feagles, 3&1
No. 2 Manuel Torres d. No. 31 Brandon Bauman, 19 holes
No. 18 Chris Petefish d. No. 15 Tim Conover, 19 holes
No. 26 Matthew Wetterich d. No. 7 Josh Martin, 1up
No. 23 William Nottingham d. No. 10 Ricky Castillo, 4&3
No. 30 Trace Travis d. No. 3 Ben Wong, 4&2
No. 19 Peter Knade d. No. 14 Thomas Eldridge, 4&3
No. 6 Alex Smalley d. No. 27 Keegan Hoff, 4&3
No. 11 Will Grimmer d. No. 22 Patrick Fishburn, 3&2
Round of 16
June 28, 2017
No. 16 Austin Squires d. No. 32 Zach Bachou, 3&1
No. 8 Spencer Soosman d. No. 9 Christopher Crawford, 19 holes
No. 13 Ty Strafaci d. No. 29 Eric Bae, 19 holes
No. 12 James Anstiss d. No. 28 Zander Lozano, 2&1
No. 18 Chris Petefish d. No. 2 Manuel Torres, 20 holes
No. 23 William Nottingham d. No. 26 Matthew Wetterich, 4&3
No. 30 Trace Travis d. No. 19 Peter Knade 2&1
No. 6 Alex Smalley d. No. 11 Will Grimmer, 2&1
No. 16 Austin Squires d. No. 8 Spencer Soosman, 1up
No. 12 James Anstiss d. No. 13 Ty Strafaci, 4&3
No. 23 William Nottingham d. No. 18 Chris Petefish, 4&3
No. 6 Alex Smalley d. No. 30 Trace Travis, 19 holes
Thursday, June 29, 2017
No. 12 James Anstiss d. No. 16 Austin Squires, 6 & 5
No. 23 William Nottingham d. No. 6 Alex Smalley, 22 holes
Friday, June 30
No. 23 William Nottingham d. No. 12 James Antiss, 1up