LaCassie wins title

Published 4:32 am Monday, August 7, 2006

By Staff
BENTON HARBOR – Bronson LaCassie held on to defeat Spain's Pablo Martin on Sunday to claim the 2006 Western Amateur title and become the first Australian in the tournament's 104-year history to have his name engraved on the George R. Thorne Championship Trophy.
LaCassie, 23, of Brisbane, Australia, joins a list of golf's greats who have won the prestigious national title, including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus. But the names of his fellow countrymen absent from the trophy give LaCassie confidence he can live his dream of success as a professional golfer.
Australians Adam Scott, Aaron Baddeley and Matthew Goggin, who all have prospered as professionals, are among the Australians who reached the Sweet 16 at the Western Amateur at Point O'Woods G. &C.C. in Benton Harbor, yet none were able to claim the championship.
"It definitely makes you believe you can go on and do what they've done. It is really special," said LaCassie, the Western Amateur's first international champion since Michael Kirk, of Johannesburg, South Africa, won in 2000, and only the third foreign champion in history. Jim Nelford, of Canada, won in 1977. "Definitely winning a trophy Tiger's won feels special and is something I'll never forget. Individually, it's the biggest thing that's happened to me in my career."
LaCassie, 23, a junior at the University of Minnesota, took command of the match on the back nine after he and Martin, 20, of Malaga, Spain, made the turn all square. LaCassie won the par 4, 10th with a 12-foot birdie putt, then carded back-to-back birdies on the par 5, 13th and par 4, 14th to take a 3-up lead. Martin answered by winning the par 5, 15th, with a conceded eagle putt, and the par 4, 16th, also with a conceded birdie putt, after LaCassie missed the greens on both of his approaches.
Undaunted, LaCassie answered on the 208-yard, par 3, 17th, hitting a 5-iron to eight feet below the cup and curling the putt in for a birdie and the 2 and 1 victory.
"I felt on 15 I got a little unlucky with a flier over the green, and on the 16th I had an awkward yardage," said LaCassie.
Not much else went wrong for LaCassie. "I really felt confident out there," he said. "I never got nervous. I pretty much knew where all my shots were going to go."
LaCassie, who was beaten by Martin by four strokes when they were paired in the third round of this year's NCAA championship, knew he would have to play his best. "He's a great player.
He's won a lot of college events and is very experienced," LaCassie said. "I knew he was going to be tough to beat."
Martin, a first-team All-American and a member of Oklahoma State's 2006 NCAA
Championship team, credited LaCassie's clutch putting as the difference in the match. "I had my chances," Martin said. "You can always hit it closer and make more putts. I had birdie chances.
He just played better than me."
Forced to withdraw from his first Western Amateur a year ago due to muscle soreness in his arms after being introduced to water-skiing a couple of days before the competition, Martin made the most of his second chance. "It was a great week … a fun week," he said. "It's awesome to be at a tournament like this. It's as good as it gets."
With three of the final four hailing from outside the United States, the internationals were heavy favorites to prevail. "Golf's getting more and more popular everywhere in the world," said LaCassie, who chose to attend college in the United States so he could compete in the summer amateur circuit. "The ones you see here (at the Western Amateur) are the best amateurs in the
world. They want to come and play here."
Although LaCassie intends to turn professional after he finishes school next year – he has just one year of eligibility remaining – he indicated the timing "depends on what happens. If I'm still an amateur, I'll definitely be back next year," he said.