Gunn Yang, 20, of the Republic of Korea, defeated Corey Conners, of Canada, 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final match Sunday to win the 2014 U.S. Amateur Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club’s 7,208-yard, par-71 Highlands Course.
"I was just trying to make it to the match-play portion, really," said Yang, a San Diego State University sophomore who had back surgery in May 2013. "That was the goal, first of all. And then when I made it to the match play, I was like, maybe I can do this. I was just trying to go through by every single match, just trying to play my game and trying to see how it goes, and I got the trophy. So, I'm really excited and really happy about it."
Yang, who grew up in Korea and played competitive amateur golf in Australia for five years, is the second Korean-born player to win the U.S. Amateur, joining Byeong-Hun Ben An, who claimed the title at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., in 2009.
Conners, 22, a recent graduate of Kent State University in Ohio who lost to eventual champion Matt Fitzpatrick in the 2013 semifinals, was vying to become the first Canadian winner since Gary Cowan in 1971. He was the first player since Patrick Cantlay in 2010 (semifinals) and 2011 (final) to advance to at least the semifinals in back-to-back years.
Yang, who was playing in his first U.S. Amateur after qualifying on July 21 at Hacienda Golf Club in La Habra Heights, Calif., held a 1-up lead through the morning 18 holes. He never trailed in the match.
"I haven't won a tournament for a long time, like maybe five or six years," said Gunn. "I was going through my injury, also. I was just trying to play my game. Obviously, it just popped in my head that if I beat Corey, then I win the trophy. But, I was just trying to concentrate and just trying to hit balls and just put it next to the hole and make the putt."
Conners, a member of the Canadian national team, won the first hole of the afternoon 18 to square the match and that status held until Yang won the 24th and 25th holes for a 2-up advantage.
Yang led 1 up through 28 holes when the match was suspended at 4:25 p.m. because of dangerous weather. Both players had hit their drives in the fairway on the 29th hole. Play resumed at 6:02 p.m.
"He struck the ball great," Conners said of Yang. "He made a lot of key putts when he needed to and didn't really have any weaknesses out there. He didn't give me any openings to climb through."
Yang’s sloping, 18-foot birdie putt on the 32nd hole pushed him to 2-up. Conners, the Mid-American Conference co-player of the year, missed birdie opportunities on the next three holes and Yang’s two-putt for a halving par on the par-3, 35th hole closed the match.
"Especially the second round, I had a lot of looks for birdie," Conners said. "I had a bunch of birdie tries. I thought I hit nice putts. They just slipped by and that was kind of frustrating not to have any of those drop and win some holes."
Yang receives a gold medal and custody of the Havemeyer Trophy for the next year. By virtue of reaching the U.S. Amateur Championship final, Yang and Conners each earned an exemption into the 2015 U.S. Open – provided they remain amateurs – and a likely invitation to the 2015 Masters Tournament. The champion receives an exemption into the 2015 British Open Championship.
All quarterfinalists earn an exemption into the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club.
Pete Kowalski is the USGA’s director of championship communications. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Result from Sunday’s championship round of match play at the 2014 U.S. Amateur Championship at 7,208-yard, par-71 Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course (stroke-play qualifying score in parentheses):
Championship (36 holes)
Gunn Yang, Republic of Korea (141) def. Corey Conners, Canada (142), 2 and 1