20 Years Ago, Marucci Took Tiger to the Limit September 25, 2015 | Egg Harbor Township, N.J. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Thirteen years before he would become a USGA champion, Buddy Marucci took Tiger Woods to the final hole of the 1995 U.S. Amateur. (USGA/Robert Walker)

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It has been said that people learn more from their losses than from their victories. Buddy Marucci could not have asked for more than he got from losing a match 20 years ago.

On Aug. 27, 1995, Marucci squared off against Tiger Woods in the final of the 100th U.S. Amateur Championship at Newport (R.I.) Country Club. He took Woods to the 36th hole, where Tiger gave an early display of his penchant for heroics, stuffing an 8-iron to within 18 inches of the hole to seal a 2-up victory.

“Obviously, I would have loved to have won, because winning the Amateur is the pinnacle of anyone’s career,” said Marucci, of Villanova, Pa., who was 43 at the time and had only advanced past the second round of the championship once. “But I probably got more out of losing than anybody’s ever gotten out of losing.”

Marucci parlayed that runner-up finish into a berth – with Woods – on the USA Walker Cup Team two weeks later, and he competed for the United States again in 1997. Marucci went on to captain two Walker Cup Teams, including what he called “the most significant thing in my life”: the 2009 Match at Merion Golf Club, Marucci’s home course, where Rickie Fowler’s 4-0 performance highlighted a USA victory.

“It’s hard to put it into words that mean anything, except to say that the week [at Newport] changed my life,” said Marucci, 63, who went on to capture a USGA championship – the 2008 U.S. Senior Amateur – and is competing in the Senior Amateur again this week, at Hidden Creek Golf Club. Marucci also took on a new role in 2015, joining the Fox Sports golf broadcasting team as an analyst, working at several USGA championships.

Until he defeated George Zahringer, 2 up, seven years ago at Shady Oaks Country Club, in Fort Worth, Texas, in the U.S. Senior Amateur final, Marucci had never come closer to capturing a USGA championship than he did at Newport.

“I’m sure glad I haven’t gone my whole life without winning a national championship – after all the tries I’ve had,” said Marucci. “That match at Newport doesn’t seem like yesterday, but it sure doesn’t seem like 20 years ago.”

Marucci was 3 up through 12 holes that day, and he held a 2-up advantage as late as the 19th hole.

“I get emotional just thinking about it,” said Marucci. “At 43, it was something I had tried to do my whole life and there I was.”

That his opponent was Woods, in pursuit of the fifth of what would become six consecutive USGA championships between 1991 and 1996, was just one of the significant aspects of that week. Marucci had needed extra holes to win three of his five matches in reaching the final, including a pair of 19-hole victories over Tim Jackson and Steve Scott in the quarterfinals and semifinals, on the same day (the quarters and semis are now scheduled on separate days). And it was the centennial championship, being played at the same venue where the first U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open were played.

“That was the charm of the whole thing,” Marucci recalled. “I remember [ formerUSGA president] Judy Bell talking about the founding of the Association at the Players’ Dinner. It had a little more significance for someone older like myself than it did for the kids. And the golf course was set up really perfectly for me.”

Marucci birdied the 19th hole to defeat Jackson, a two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who Marucci called “the best [amateur] player of our generation,” which gave him the confidence to oust Scott that afternoon. Scott would go on to face Woods in the U.S. Amateur final a year later, losing in 38 holes.

In the championship match at Newport, Woods rallied from a two-hole deficit by winning the 21st, 23rd and 24th holes, and Marucci squared the match for the final time by chipping in on the 26th hole.

“The golf was good – we both played well,” said Marucci. “That’s not to say that every shot was hit perfectly. I never thought, boy, I’m going to win. I worried about the golf, not the end result. But I faltered a little on 4, 5 and 6 in the afternoon, or else I really may have been able to…”

… Beat Woods. Marucci didn’t say it, and for a long time, no one could do it, through three U.S. Junior Amateurs and three U.S. Amateurs in six years.

“No one will ever come close to those 36 match-play wins in a row,” said Marucci. “I don’t care how good the next great player is – for one thing, they probably won’t even play in six events like he did. I know he’s won 14 majors, but that might be his greatest accomplishment. He did it as a kid; he was down in every [championship] match, handling the emotion…. It was remarkable.”

For his part, Woods marveled afterward at the short games of Marucci and his own semifinal foe, fellow 43-year-old Mark Plummer, of Manchester, Maine, who also extended Tiger to the final hole.

“They may hit it awry occasionally,” Woods said, “but they can get it up and down from everywhere. Great putting can make up for a lot of sins.”

Woods rolled in a critical 18-foot putt on the 30th hole to go 2 up, meaning that Marucci was still 1 down going to the 36th hole, despite his winning birdie on the penultimate hole. When Marucci knocked his approach shot 20 feet from the hole on No. 36, he had a chance – at least until Woods answered from 140 yards away.

“I stood right next to him when he hit it,” said Marucci. “The fact that the ball ended up a foot or so from the hole was probably the least impressive part of it. It’s the way he hit the shot – it was so brilliantly struck that there really wasn’t much you could say.”

Marucci did have a moment with Tiger as they walked up to the final green.

“I knew the ball was close, but I didn’t know how close,” said Marucci. “I congratulated him because I didn’t think we would have a chance to talk after the match. I told him, ‘Someday, you’re going to hit that shot to win the U.S. Open.’”

Rather than ruing the 3-up lead that got away, Marucci takes solace from the fact that he had given Woods his best shot.

“It was a great day,” he said. “I try not to dwell on it, but it was a neat accomplishment. You never know what’s going to happen, and then all of a sudden it does.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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