Erin, Wis. – Kelly Kraft, 22, of Denton, Texas, took a 2-up lead over USA Walker Cup Team member Patrick Cantlay, 19, of Los Alamitos, Calif., after the morning 18 of Sunday’s 36-hole championship match of the 2011 U.S. Amateur Championship at 7,760-yard, par-72 Erin Hills.
Kraft, a three-time Conference USA Player of the Year who completed his eligibility at Southern Methodist University this year, gained a 4-up advantage through 16 holes.
Cantlay began a short rally when he converted a 60-foot putt for birdie on No.17 and then won 18 with a bogey when Kraft hit two bunkers on his approach shots.
Try to make mine, Kraft said when asked what he thought after Cantlay’s unlikely birdie at No.17. I’m happy being 2 up after 18, but we have a long day ahead of us.
The greens are a little harder and faster than they have been. The wind is a little different, kind of like yesterday. A couple of the holes played pretty long.
Cantlay, a UCLA sophomore who advanced to the semifinals of the 2010 Amateur, birdied the par-5 first hole to take a 1-up lead. Kraft, who posted victories at the 2011 Trans-Mississippi Amateur and Texas State Amateur, birdied the par-4 fourth from 30 feet to square the match and won the par-3 sixth following a Cantlay bogey.
Kraft extended his lead to 3 up with a birdie on the 12th hole and another Cantlay bogey on the 13th.
Cantlay, who holds the top spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, conceded the par-5 14th with an eagle after Kraft took four strokes and was still short of the elevated putting surface.
The Californian then hit his drive on the short par-4 15th over the green and could not convert a par putt and Kraft took the par-3 16th when Cantlay took two strokes to escape a greenside bunker.
Both finalists are exempt from qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Open Championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., provided they remain an amateur.
The winner is exempt from qualifying for the next British Open Championship and both finalists have historically received an invitation to the next Masters Tournament. In both cases, the player must remain an amateur.
The U.S. Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.