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Sports

Qualifers endorse match play

| Thursday, Aug. 21, 2003

Match play might be an old idea, but it's a hit with the new generation of U.S. Amateur qualifiers.

Without exception, contestants endorsed the head-to-head form of competition, as the Amateur switched to match play Wednesday at Oakmont Country Club, following two rounds of stroke play.

While stroke play determines the outcome of most PGA Tour events and collegiate matches, match play has decided all but eight of the past 102 National Amateurs, the oldest American golf championship.

Nothing tests a golfer like match play, former Amateur finalist Trip Kuehne said after an exhausting 18-hole, 2-up victory over Ty Harris of Tampa Bay, Fla.

"That's when you look inside yourself and say, hey, this is the U.S. Amateur, you need to suck it up and let's go," Kuehne said. "They make you test yourself, and I got to see what was deep inside, deep down inside Trip Kuehne again today."

Total 18-hole scores don't count in match play. The competition is scored by the number of holes won rather than the strokes taken.

Kuehne, of Dallas, needed everything in his bag, including a Taylor Made driver he belted over 370 yards on the 12th hole, to advance to today's 36-hole slugfest.

"There's going to be lots of dogfights out there, and I was fortunate to win this dogfight," Kuehne said. "To win a match-play championship like this, you're going to have rounds where you'll be tested. I was tested to the max today."

Match play brought out the gambler in some young players.

"Match play allows you to approach the course with a completely different perspective," 16-year-old amateur Tom Glissmeyer said after defeating Randy Nichols of Connersville, Ind., 5 and 3. "You can attack a difficult golf course like Oakmont and not worry about making an 8 or 9 because it's match play and it's just one hole.

"You can come back on the next hole."

Golfers gain and lose momentum in match play.

Casey Wittenberg, 18, of Memphis, started his match bogey, bogey, bogey, but came back to win seven consecutive holes to defeat Bill Drohen of Haverhill, Mass., 5 and 3.

"I gutted it out and got it done," Wittenberg said. "Oakmont is so difficult, there's no let-up anywhere. It gives you a chance to come back in match play because you know nobody is going to put together a bunch of birdies on this course."

Timing is crucial in match play, when the outcome can turn on one stroke.

Wittenberg turned his match around on the 11th hole when he put a shot inside his opponents next to the hole. Drohen didn't win a hole the rest of the match.

"I think that hurt his confidence level a little bit and got me going a little bit more," Wittenberg said. "A good shot at the right time makes the difference."

Amateur Bill Haas, some of PGA Tour pro Jay Haas, won three matches and reached the semifinal before losing to champion Ricky Barnes in last year's Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Haas, of Greenville, S.C., missed half the fairways during his match yesterday at Oakmont, but used his match play experience to eliminate Jessie Mudd of Louisville, Ky., 7 and 5.

"I would say I'm much more calm and not as nervous on the first tee after last year," Haas said. "Maybe that's just experience."

The Amateur was a stroke-play event the last time Oakmont played host to the national

championship. Steve Melnyk won at 286.

Davy Herron (1919), Bobby Jones (1925) and Willie Turnesa (1938) won Oakmont's first three National Amateurs in match play.

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