PINEHURST, N.C. — The exhale was long and well-deserved for Andy Ogletree as he stood to the side of the 17th green at Pinehurst No. 2 late Saturday afternoon. His semifinal match at the U.S. Amateur Championship against Cohen Trolio, the upstart 17-year-old playing his first individual national amateur event, had been a slog, both players scrambling for pars (and even halving holes with bogeys) as a long week manifested itself in a difficult day on the course. Between them, they wound up shooting 17 over par.
But after sticking a “juiced” 6-iron to five feet on the 202-yard par 3, the 21-year-old Georgia Tech senior closed out his teenage rival, 3 and 1, to leave himself one win away from capturing the biggest tournament title of his life.
“It means a lot just to get to this point,” Ogletree said. “There’s a lot that comes with it, and I can’t help but think about that right now.”
Indeed, by winning on Saturday and reaching the 36-hole final, Ogletree should be expecting an invitation to next year’s Masters as well as an exemption into the U.S. Open. Such spoils create a pressure during the semifinals that’s hard to replicate.
“I literally woke up at 3:15 this morning just walking around my hotel room,” Ogletree said, “because I was so excited for today and so ready for today.”
In contrast, John Augenstein said he got the best night of sleep he’s had all week on Friday night, even though he too was well aware of everything on the line. What threw the 21-year-old Vanderbilt senior ahead of his Saturday semifinal was his unfamiliarity with his opponent, Sam Houston State senior William Holcomb V, having never previous played against him.
“I didn’t know anything about [him], and not that it matters too much, but it’s kind of almost a wild card,” Augenstein said. “You have no idea kind of what he’s good at, what he's not good at, do I give him some putts, do I not. So just having to figure those little things, those things being unknown to me are not normal.”
What Augenstein does know, though, is how to win at match play, which he proved once more by beating Holcomb, 3 and 2, and extending his record in the format since spring 2017 to an astounding 17-3-1.
Come Sunday, there is still more at stake to give the two collegians pause. First and foremost is the actual championship title. But the winner will add an exemption into the Open Championship to the other two major invites, a likely pairing with Tiger Woods at the Masters and an automatic spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team that will be competing in three weeks at Royal Liverpool Golf Club
The prospect of the Walker Cup hadn’t really entered Ogletree’s mind until recently. While a consistent golfer for two-plus seasons with the Yellow Jackets, he had yet to win a college title. This, despite the fact that Ogletree had what Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler described as a PGA Tour-ready game tee-to-green. The problem was his short game left something to be desired. It was a fact that he and Ogletree had a tough-love chat about last fall.
“We just finally had a conversation,” Heppler said, “and I said, 'look, we’ve had players come through here and go on to play after [on the PGA Tour], and from tee-to-green you can do that, but you’re taking a knife to a gunfight around the greens and the bunkers.’ I mean he couldn’t get out of a bunker.”
Apparently, the message was heard, as Ogletree spent the spring semester putting in countless hours on the short game area at Georgia Tech’s new on-campus practice facility. And the work showed; in eight spring starts, Ogletree had three top-five finishes (including a runner up at the ACC Championship) and six top-15s. And at the start of the amateur summer season, he finally notched a victory, taking the title at the Monroe Invitational in June.
Ogletree’s passion for the game began early growing up in Little Rock, Miss. The town has fewer than 2,000 residents and no stoplight. “We have a little gas station that has a seafood buffet on Friday night,” he said. “Food is incredible.”
The nearest golf courses, Northwood Country Club and Dancing Rabbit, are roughly 30-minute drives away. Besides his two younger brothers, there weren’t many other people to play with so the family built a golf hole on their property, giving the boys the chance to hit up to 200-yard shots. They even installed a street light to extend the hours of operation into the evenings, and a bunker to make it even more versatile.
“It was always kind of our chore as kids to cut the green,” Ogletree said. “We had a greens mower and everything.”
Ogletree and his siblings were all on the high school team that won a state championship Andy’s senior year. It’s a moment that stands out, as did others as Ogletree reflected on things after his Saturday win.
“Just since I was four years old,” Ogletree said, “all the hard work that I’ve put in over the years, thinking about all the late-night range sessions, all the times me and my dad would drive to golf tournaments, fly to golf tournaments, it’s all kind of come together, and it’s unbelievable.”
Of course, the same could be said for Augenstein, who earlier in the week noted that his primary mission at Pinehurst wasn’t to win the U.S. Amateur title but to secure a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup. Even should he fall to Ogletree on Sunday, Augenstein’s play this week at Pinehurst and his superlative match-play record should earn him an at-large spot on the American team regardless.
Yet Augenstein said he’d like to leave nothing to chance.
“But I want to solidify it tomorrow,” Augenstein said. “I don’t want to leave it up to the committee because if I do that, it’s out of my hands. But if I can get the job done tomorrow, then I won’t have to worry about much.”
Originally Appeared on Golf Digest