Oklahoma State Coach Backs a Winner in Cowboy Tussle
August 17, 2017 | PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
It’s a coach’s conundrum: If you choose to caddie for one of your team members during the U.S. Amateur, you just might end up squaring off against another one.
“Traditionally, we’ve had a lot of good players, so it’s happened before,” said Alan Bratton, coach of longtime college golf power Oklahoma State University, who is caddieing this week at the U.S. Amateur Championship for Kristoffer Ventura. After Ventura won his Round-of-64 match on Wednesday, he and Bratton found themselves in a daunting matchup on Thursday morning with stroke-play medalist – and fellow Cowboy – Hayden Wood.
“It’s awkward to be in the middle of that,” said Bratton, who faced a similar scenario in 2010, when two Cowboy standouts, Peter Uihlein and Morgan Hoffmann, squared off in the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals at Chambers Bay. Bratton was caddieing for Uihlein, who went on to capture the Havemeyer Trophy. “Obviously, both that day and today, I just wanted them to play well and hope that there wasn’t a critical mistake that someone would have to look back on.”
On Thursday morning, Wood followed up his record-setting stroke-play performance and solid victory in the Round of 64 by making seven birdies. It wasn’t enough against teammate Ventura, of Norway, who made an eagle and five birdies of his own and took advantage of a couple of early Wood bogeys to notch a 3-and-2 victory. Ventura moved on to a Thursday afternoon matchup (1:15 PDT) against Connor Syme, of Scotland.
“It was interesting,” said Ventura, a senior from Rygge, Norway, who asked Bratton to caddie for him when he earned an exemption into the U.S. Amateur via his World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (No. 34). “I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve played with [Hayden] and against him a bunch of times, so I just treated it like another round.”
“Hayden hit a couple of loose tee shots at the beginning, and Kris won some holes with pars,” said Bratton, who was a four-time All-American at Oklahoma State. “That was kind of the difference in the match. But Hayden didn’t lay down at all. He just kept making birdies.”
Wood started the week with rounds of 64-67 at Riviera and Bel-Air, respectively, to break the championship stroke-play scoring record by one, then notched a 4-and-3 win over Chris Chrisologo, of Canada, on Wednesday. However, he bogeyed three early par 4s – Nos. 3, 5 and 7 – and his furious rally was blunted by Ventura.
“What a week he had, setting the scoring record – that’s a big, big deal,” said Bratton of Wood, the son of 1977 U.S. Junior champion Willie Wood. “He’s got nothing to hang his head about. Holy cow, he birdied 8, 10, 11, 12, 14 and 15, but Kris was making birdies, too, and he chipped in for eagle on 10 while Hayden birdied.”
Bratton’s players also had success earlier this summer, as incoming freshman Austin Eckrote was medalist at the U.S. Junior Amateur, where he lost to future teammate – and roommate – Matthew Wolff in the quarterfinal round. Wolff lost in the championship final to Noah Goodwin.
“It’s going to happen if our guys do the right things,” said Bratton. “I wish this had been the final match; it would have been a great final. At least we were guaranteed of having at least one guy in the Round of 16.”
Spoken like someone who is wearing his Oklahoma State coach’s cap, rather than a caddie bib.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.