Mickelson's 1990 Win Set the Bar High
Let's hope 2012 U.S. Amateur lives up to standard set 22 years ago
by Gary Baines
It's been 22 years since the U.S. Amateur was last played in Colorado. And if this month's Amateur produces as many interesting stories and moments as the 1990 version did, we should be in for one fascinating week.
Cherry Hills Country Club will host arguably the top event in amateur golf Aug. 13-19, with CommonGround Golf Course serving as the second site for the stroke-play portion of the event Aug. 13-14.
Anyone who attended the 1990 Amateur at Cherry Hills -- or covered it, in the case of yours truly -- can tell you the tournament proved to be quite a memorable start to a five-year run of historic USGA championships held in Colorado.
In the 1993 U.S. Senior Open at Cherry Hills, Jack Nicklaus would win the last of his eight USGA titles. Nicklaus' first USGA championship also came in Colorado, at the Broadmoor in the 1959 U.S. Amateur.
Then in the 1995 U.S. Women's Open at the Broadmoor, Annika Sorenstam would post the first of her 72 LPGA Tour victories.
As for the 1990 Amateur, the event remains the answer to a trivia question: At what tournament did World Golf Hall of Famer -- and five-time U.S. Open runner-up -- Phil Mickelson win his only USGA championship?
The U.S. Am 22 years ago produced many an unforgettable moment. Here were some of the highlights and notable tidbits from that week:
-- A severe hail storm six weeks before the championship made it a challenge to get Cherry Hills ready for the tournament. The golf-ball-size hail left an estimated 750,000 to 1 million scars on Cherry Hills' greens, some as large as 3 1/2 inches, and the course was closed for five days. A concerted effort by members and staff had the greens in good shape by the time the Amateur started on Aug. 21.
-- While Mickelson (pictured in a USGA photo at Cherry Hills) comes across as a confident player to this day, he was borderline cocky as a 20-year-old competing at the U.S. Amateur. To be sure, he was a standout, having won NCAA titles as both a freshman and sophomore at Arizona State. He was also low amateur in the 1990 U.S. Open.
Two-time U.S. Amateur champion Jay Sigel went so far as to call Mickelson "the best (amateur) I've seen."
But, at the time, modesty wasn't the strong suit of Mickelson, who consistently sported a preppy look back then.
After being medalist in the stroke-play portion of the Amateur, Mickelson said, "If I play the way I've been playing, I don't think I'll get beat."
Also: "I'm playing as good as I've ever played. Every facet of my game is 100 percent right now. Whoever I play, I'd be intimidated (if I were them). So why shouldn't they be?"
-- In an example of his self-confidence, in his round-of-32 match, Mickelson had a 2-foot putt for birdie on No. 1, while his opponent, Jeff Thomas, had a 25-footer for par. Mickelson conceded Thomas' putt.
"He didn't give me a putt all day," Mickelson later said of Thomas. "I just didn't want him to go and (take the time) to line up the putt."
As Mickelson recently told USGA.org in recalling the event, "I'll never forget the look that he gave me (after Mickelson conceded the long putt). It was just funny."
-- In stroke play, Mickelson broke the course record at Meridian Golf Club -- and the existing U.S. Amateur record -- by carding an 8-under-par 64, despite missing two 5-foot putts in the process. That gave him a 135 total for two rounds, good for medalist honors by two strokes. He gained that honor despite making a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 15th hole at Cherry Hills, where he four-putted.
-- Ten Coloradans competed in the 1990 U.S. Amateur: current PGA Tour player Shane Bertsch, Brett Dean, Rick DeWitt, Shawn McGechie, Tom McGraw, Guy Mertz, Robert Odom, Scott Petersen, Bill Werley and Charlie Whalen. None made match play, though DeWitt was in a playoff for the final match-play spots. Also failing to advance in that playoff was David Duval, who now lives in Colorado and is a member at Cherry Hills.
-- In the first day of stroke play, Meridian yielded three holes-in-one.
-- One player definitely stood out among the 312 competitors, though not necessarily for his golf. David Nissenbaum, a former state high school champion in Massachusetts, competed at Cherry Hills and Meridian with hair down to his shoulder blades and a foot-long beard. Nissenbaum also played in the 1967 U.S. Amateur -- at the Broadmoor -- but in the interim he served three years in federal prison for his role in allegedly smuggling 21 tons of marijuana. And, for good measure, he was a priest of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, which uses marijuana in a sacramental role.
-- Defending champ Chris Patton, all 310 pounds of him, lost 8 and 6 in the first round of match play when opponent Chris Zambri made hole-in-one with a 5-iron at the 204-yard 12th hole. After the ace, despite having already been eliminated, Patton couldn't resist intentionally hitting his tee shot into the water. He turned pro immediately after the match.
-- In three of his first four matches, Mickelson was taken the distance -- to the 18th hole -- including in the quarterfinals by Bob May, who went on to lose a playoff at the 2000 PGA Championship. Mickelson's most remarkable comeback came in the round of 16. He was 1 down on the 16th hole, and for his second shot he had a huge cottonwood a few feet in front of him and directly between his ball and the hole.
Mickelson aimed at a creek 40 yards left of flagstick, hit a huge hook and put his ball 12 feet from the hole. He made his birdie putt and opponent Mike Swingle missed his 15 footer, evening the match.
"I had to snipe it 60 yards; I can't believe I pulled it off," Mickelson said. "... It was by far one of the better shot under pressure I've hit. If I don't make it, it's in the creek, then it's over."
Mickelson went on to win the 17th hole with a birdie and won the match 1 up despite being 4 over par for the round.
"About an hour ago, I had lost, I was done, heading home," he said shortly after prevailing.
-- From the "world is a small place" department, in the 36-hole final Mickelson faced Manny Zerman, a fellow member of the graduating class of 1988 from University of San Diego High School. They were golf teammates at the school as seniors.
In the final, Mickelson made 10 birdies and played 32 holes in 4 under par in defeating Zerman 5 and 4. Mickelson had won the biggest tournament of his life to that point.
"This is the one that matters most," he said earlier in the week. "I could finish last in every other tournament and win this one and be happy. This is the ultimate amateur tournament."
-- Mickelson became the first left-hander to win the U.S. Amateur. And the victory made him the first player since Nicklaus in 1961 to win NCAA title and U.S. Amateur in the same year.
Capturing the U.S. Amateur title earned Mickelson a 1991 Masters pairing with Nick Faldo, who would finish his career with six major championships.
Noting at the time that he had never met Faldo, Mickelson deadpanned, "Good player, I hear."
-- Mickelson wasn't a big fan of playing it safe when a challenge presented itself, so it's not surprising that he regularly tried to drive the green on the par-4 first hole at Cherry Hills, as Arnold Palmer did successfully in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open en route to rallying to victory.
But the strategy didn't work out so well for Mickelson, who was 1 over par in seven times playing the hole during match play.
However, as Mickelson noted regarding another decision he made earlier in the week, "I'm just not one to lay it up -- flat out."
Other U.S. Amateur-Related Stories on COgolf.org:
-- Star Power for U.S. Amateur. Spieth, Hossler, Gary Nicklaus headline field for Colorado-based tourney
-- Yang Joins Sister as USGA Qualifier. DU golfer advances to U.S. Amateur along with Axlund, Chapman
-- National Berths, With a Cherry on Top. Schovee, Spray, Hallberg qualify for Colorado-based U.S. Amateur
-- Kids and Pros Alike Have a Blast. U.S. Amateur Alumni Day at CommonGround draws a few hundred fans
-- CGA, CWGA Gear Up for U.S. Amateur. With CommonGround as Companion Course, associations expand role
-- CommonGround Impresses USGA Executive Director. Five tees were added for U.S. Amateur
U.S. Amateur: All the Essentials
What: The 112th U.S. Amateur, the oldest USGA championship.
When: Aug. 13-19. For Aug. 13-14 tee times, CLICK HERE.
Where: Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village (7,409 yards, par-71), and CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora (7,378 yards, par-70). Cherry Hills will be hosting its ninth USGA championship (3 U.S. Opens, 1 U.S. Women's Open, 2 U.S. Amateurs, 1 U.S. Senior Open, 1 USGA Senior Amateur, 1 U.S. Mid-Amateur).
Format: 36 holes of stroke play Aug. 13 and 14, with each golfer playing 18 holes each at Cherry Hills at CommonGround. The top 64 players will advance to match play, which will be held exclusively at Cherry Hills. The first round of matches is Aug. 15, the second and third rounds are Aug. 16, the quarterfinals Aug. 17, the semifinals Aug. 18 and the 36-hole final is Aug. 19.
Starting Field: 312 players. (6,403 golfers originally sent in entries.)
Top Name Players Expected in Field: Jordan Spieth (2-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion, low amateur in 2012 U.S. Open), Beau Hossler (17-year-old led U.S. Open during second round), Gary Nicklaus (son of the legendary Jack Nicklaus), college player of the year Justin Thomas, 2011 Masters low amateur Hideki Matsuyama, 2012 NCAA Div. I champion Thomas Pieters.
Players in Field with Strong Colorado Ties: Ryan Axlund of Denver, Jeff Chapman of Denver, Parker Edens of Greeley, Eric Hallberg of Castle Rock, Bryan Kruse of Wesminster, Michael Schoolcraft of Englewood, Matt Schovee of Englewood, former Colorado Springs resident Justin Spray, DU golfer Andy Yang.
Winner Receives Exemptions In: 2013 Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, along with the next 10 U.S. Amateurs, providing he remains an amateur.
Tickets: Available at King Soopers stores and at TicketsWest.com. A daily ticket is $17.50. A weekly pass is $85. Kids 17 and under are admitted free when accompanied by a ticketed adult.
Television: Aug. 15 2-4 p.m., Golf Channel; Aug. 16 4:30-6:30 p.m., Golf Channel; Aug. 17 6:30-8:30 p.m., Golf Channel; Aug. 18 2-4 p.m., NBC; Aug. 19 2-4 p.m., NBC.