Hahn wins 107th Western AmPublished 8:28am Monday, August 10, 2009
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The turning point of Saturday afternoon’s final match of the 107th Western Amateur came on the ninth hole at the blustery, sun-drenched, and humid 9th hole at Conway Farms Golf Club.
Zach Barlow, a senior at the University of Illinois, had a downhill 4-foot putt that – if converted – would slow the momentum of Kent State junior John Hahn, who led Barlow 2-up and had a 3-footer for birdie to restore a 3-hole lead he had built earlier in the match but had seen slip the hole before.
But Barlow, of Percy, Ill., pulled his putt ever so slightly to the left and watched it pick up speed as it crossed the pristine green, stopping seven feet past the cup. The 22-year-old defending Illinois State Amateur champion then missed his come-backer and made bogey before conceding Hahn’s putt to put him 3-up again.
“I fought hard to get to 2-down after 8 and I wanted to be no worse than 2-down at the turn and make a move on the back nine,” said Barlow, who was attempting to become the first Illinois native to win the Western Amateur since Jack Westland did it in 1933.
The 20-year-old Hahn, who hails from Hudson, Ohio, immediately felt the momentum of the match swing back in his direction and never looked back. Hahn won the match 3 and 2 on the 16th hole after Barlow missed a 10-foot birdie putt and Hahn made par.
“I had a pretty good gauge on the momentum of the match, and it really came back in my direction there,” Hahn said. Still, he didn’t feel his lead was safe.
“Playing with Zach is tough because he’s such a good competitor,” Hahn said. “There’s something about Midwestern players. They know how to grind it out. When a guy like Zach gets down, you can never count him out.”
Hahn, who had to win a playoff Thursday to earn one of 16 match play spots, called his Western Amateur victory “the greatest championship I’ve ever won.” He is among several Ohioans with their names on the George R. Thorne Trophy, joining the likes of such major championship winners as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf.
Another Ohioan and Kent State golfer who finished second at the Western Amateur in 2000 was 2003 British Open winner Ben Curtis, a man Hahn calls “inspirational.”
“For me, winning this championship is like Ben winning the British Open,” Hahn said. “I won the MAC Championship and a tournament in Maryland [the Townson Invitational] but nothing like this. I’m very proud to win this championship. The history of this tournament makes it special.”
Hahn was ready to pack his bags after he bogeyed his 72nd hole in Thursday’s final round of stroke play despite shooting 7-under par in the 36-hole marathon. But he made it into a playoff and won on the first hole of sudden death.
Because he was the 16th [lowest] seed in the Sweet 16, Hahn said “someone called me a Cinderella story, but I feel like I belong. I’m not a Cinderella boy.”
Hahn, who attends Kent State on the Ben Curtis Golf Scholarship, said he last talked to his alumnus friend a couple of months ago. “The best advice Ben ever gave me was to just believe in yourself. I practice hard, I work out, I don’t party a lot. I just keep plodding and plodding and plodding along. This week it all came together.”
Hahn played 139 holes in five days in golf’s most grueling amateur championship.
After carrying his own clubs for 90 holes, Hahn hired Conway Farms caddie Jose Ornelas on Friday afternoon.
“I hired him between matches yesterday and I made three 20 footers right away,” Hahn said. “It was a good move.” Ornelas gave all credit to Hahn. “I gave him a couple of good reads but he had everything else – a great golf swing and a good putter.”
Hahn and Barlow both praised Conway Farms as a great golf course and complimented the Western Golf Association tournament staff on the course set up. “This is the second-toughest set up I’ve ever played,” Hahn said. “It was a lot of fun to play. I’m exhausted.”
Though disappointed, Barlow was encouraged with his performance.
“This whole week was a learning experience,” said Barlow, who outlasted 155 other players and who is the first Illinois resident to finish second since David Ogrin of Waukegan in 1980. “Next time I’m in a situation like this I will (win) it. I proved I can play with the best players in the nation. I know my swing is close and I need to sharpen up my short game.”
Barlow was gracious in defeat. “He [Hahn] was solid all day. He got [a lead] early and player very, very solid golf on the way in. He put pressure on me all day.”
The afternoon round was played in a steady wind of 20-25 miles an hour. This followed four days of relatively benign wind conditions despite which only 11 of the 156-player field finished 72 holes of stroke play under par.
Hahn won his semifinal match on Saturday morning under cloudy skies and drizzle, defeating University of Alabama
sophomore and potential Walker Cup pick Bud Cauley, 2 and 1. Barlow defeated Patrick Reed of Augusta State, 3 and 2, in their semifinal match.
This year’s Western Amateur was the first in the Chicago area since Exmoor hosted the event in 1952.
The tournament moved to the Chicago area from Point O’Woods Golf Country Club in Benton Harbor, which had hosted the event every year since 1971.
Next year, the Western Amateur will be played at historic Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Illinois, which hosted the 1909 Western Open, won by Willie Anderson.
The club also has hosted the 1998 U.S. Senior Amateur, the 1982 U.S. Amateur, and the 1922 U.S. Open, won by golf legend Gene Sarazen.