University Place, Wash. — Peter Uihlein stands just two wins shy of hosting the Havemeyer Trophy at the U.S. Amateur Championship. Yet he spoke with a tinge of sadness following his 1-up quarterfinal victory over Morgan Hoffmann.
They were more than match play opponents on an overcast day at Chambers Bay. They were Oklahoma State University roommates and U.S. Walker Cup teammates squaring off. They were good friends, a bit of Oscar Madison and Felix Unger between them, trying to advance in the most prestigious amateur event.
It’s never fun having to play a teammate and one of my best friends, said Uihlein, 20, of Orlando, Fla. It’s bittersweet that’s for sure. I can’t really say much.
Even Alan Bratton, Uihlein’s caddie and an OSU assistant coach, found the match emotionally draining.
It was just awkward for me, because you’re pulling for both of them, said Bratton, who was an All-American player on the Cowboys’ 1995 NCAA Championship team and coach on the 2006 national title squad. I told them [Thursday night] they just needed to thump each other just the way they would try to anybody else.
A one-sided rout never materialized, but rather a shot-for-shot duel played out and fittingly ended on the 18th hole. Neither OSU junior held more than a 1-hole lead, and they combined for nine birdies. Given the usual match play concessions, Uihlein shot 66, Hoffmann 68.
Hoffman won the 501- and 479-yard par-4 first and sixth holes, respectively, to take 1-up leads. Uihlein squared the match for a second time when he made a two-putt par at the 227-yard, par-3 ninth hole and took the first of two leads with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 436-yard, par-4 10th hole.
Hoffman squared the match one last time with par at the 521-yard, par-4 14th hole. Uihlein won the par-4 16th hole with an 8-foot birdie putt. After halving the par-3 17th, Uihlein made a 5-foot par save at the 18th for the win.
Uihlein admitted there were more long concessions than a usual match.
We both kind of wanted to control the match, he said. So if I had a 2-footer for par and he has a 6-footer for birdie he would give me mine because he wanted to be the one to make the putt.
I was doing the same thing to him. Like on 18, he hit [his par attempt] pretty far by, but I gave it to him [for bogey] because I wanted it to come down to me.
Hoffmann, 21, of Wyckoff, N.J., was not at a loss for words following the defeat. He just had difficulty finding the right words.
Good match, I obviously didn’t play as well as I have been, said Hoffmann, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2009. He played consistent, we each put pressure on each other and one of us had to lose.
In Saturday’s semifinals, Uihlein, one of the country’s top amateurs, will face Patrick Cantley, 18, of Los Alamitos, Calif. Cantley defeated Jed Dirksen in 20 holes in a quarterfinals match.
While Uihlein only knows that Cantley is a freshman-to-be at UCLA, he knows plenty about Hoffmann, who he had never faced in a match-play setting dating back to their days as high-level junior players. But in the Cowboys’ 13 tournaments last season, Uihlein finished higher than Hoffmann on nine occasions, including at the Big 12, NCAA Southeast Regional and NCAA championships.
We lived together our freshman and sophomore years, said Uihlein. We were definitely different because after we were done practicing, I just liked to relax. He always wanted to go do something and go have some fun.
He’s not a partier, he just likes to do things. Kind of an adrenaline junkie, I guess.
Following the match, the two friends hugged and spoke.
I said sorry, Uihlein said. And he’s like ‘It’s all right. Just go win it for the Cowboys and go get it done.’
As good of friends as the two players are, there will be plenty of opportunities for Uihlein to give Hoffmann some good-natured ribbing. But Uihlein says that will not happen.
I’m not going to do that, he said emphatically.
The feeling would hurt — for Uihlein as much as Hoffmann.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.