James Piot wins 121st U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont Country Club
By Mike Dudurich • August 16, 2021
Mike is a freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich.
And now it’s down it’s down to 8.
On Monday, 312 of the best amateur golfers in the world showed up in steamy western Pennsylvania in search of the title in the 121st U.S. Amateur Championship.
After several weather delays, the famed Oakmont Country Club layout has lost a bit of its fire, but still was plenty tough as each round lopped off more and more highly-acclaimed golfers.
The event was fortunate enough to get through an entire day without storms and got back on track with its’ schedule and the semifinals will go on as scheduled, starting with Ross Steelman of Columbia, Mo facing Austin Greaser of Vandala, Oh.at 12:45. At 1:45 Travis Vick of Hunters Creek Village Tx. will face Brian Stark of Kingsburg Ca.
At 2:20, James Piot of Canton, Mi. gets Matt Sharpstene from Charlotte, NC and at 2:50, Nick Gabrelcik of Trinity, Fl will tee it up against James Piot, of Canton, Mi.
Piot faced Thomas Hutchinson of San Jose Ca. in the quarterfinals and beat him 3 & 1. But there was more than golf in that match In the middle of an oppressive afternoon, Hutchinson struggled with the heat and went down, finding a bit of shade and cooled down.
“We stayed off the course for about 15 minutes until he felt better,” Piot said. “Life is more important than golf and I’m just glad he was able to come back.”
Travis Dick was a three-sport athlete at Houston’s Second Baptist High School. He was a decorated linebacker and quarterback and a pitcher/third baseman on the baseball team. Those teams cut into his golf time and he eventually chose golf only.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” he admitted. “I think it’s a big accomplishment to get to the semifinals. My putter came alive today which was good because my ball-striking was a little off. I’m starting to get a feel for these greens.”
As an FYI Dick’s mental coach is none other than Hal Sutton.
As happens many time in sports as well as other pursuits, there always seems to be a Pittsburgh connection.
Nick Gabrelcik brings that to the U.S. Amateur. His father, Don, grew up in Pittsburgh. His mom, Annette, grew up in Pleasant Hills.
“We come up here just about every year to see the rest of the family and we’ve become big Steelers fans,” he said. “We watch all the games. Big Steelers fans.”
As like the other quarterfinals, his was a hard-fought victory. And doing it in Pittsburgh?
“It definitely means a lot more to me, getting to come every year and it’s really special to get to this position in this awesome tournament,” Gabrelcik said.
Greaser won his match Friday, but knows that if he’s going to win the Amateur one aspect of his game is going to need to improve quickly.
“My wedges need to work, period,” he said, explaining to the assembled media that his hometown of Vandala, Ohio is approximately four hours and 10 minutes from Pittsburgh. “They just have to get better or things are going to get tough. I got away with it today.
An interesting sidelight to Friday afternoon’s quarterfinals were the connections between two of the eight players still competing and two local stars who were eliminated from the event.
Matt Sharpstene played three years at WVU with Mark Goetz before transferring to Coastal Carolina in an effort to be closer to him family in Charlotte. reached the semifinals in last year’s Amateur at Bandon Dunes.
“Yeah, he’s a good dude,” said Goetz, “but he wanted to get closer to home. We were mad at him for a little bit for leaving, but were just kidding mostly. The kid can play. Just hated to see him go.”
Goetz, of course, suffered a stunning defeat Thursday, taking a 3-up lead into the 15th hole. He had a chance to close out the match against David Nyfjall of Sweden with a par, but three-putted for a bogey. Nyfjall won the final four holes to win the match at knock the No. 1 seed out. Nyfjall lost in 21 holes to Ricky Castillo of Yorba Linda, Cal.
Jackson, who will be a junior at Notre Dame in a couple weeks, is very familiar Davis Chatfield of Attleboro. They’ve been teammates at Notre Dame for the last couple years and will be again this year as Chatfield returns for his graduate season, the result of an NCAA decision to give athletes whose seasons were cancelled because of COVID-19. That’s the route Goetz will take at West Virginia after next season.
For those of you interested at home, the course is playing to an average of approximately 76.07.
When the favorites were chosen at the start of the 121st U.S. Amateur, chances are very good James Piot of Canton, Michigan wasn’t in that select group.
Guys like Preston Summerhays, Michael Thorbjornsen, Stewart Hagestad, Cole Hammer were not factors and most didn’t even make match play.
But when the 36-hole final gets underway this morning at 9 at Oakmont Country Club, it will be a pair of bulldogs battling for the biggest prize in amateur golf.
Austin Greaser of Vandala, Ohio and James Piot of Canton Michigan are the last two contestants standing and will compete not only for the Havemeyer, but some nice parting gifts as well.
The champion receives exemptions to play in the Masters, U.S. Open and the British Open — as long as they retain their amateur status (or qualify by other means like Bryson DeChambeau did for the 2016 U.S. Open). They are also automatically qualified for the next 10 U.S. Amateurs, providing they keep their amateur status. The runner-up also receives exemptions into the Masters and the U.S. Open, which has to be one of the best consolation prizes of all time.
It may well be great “stuff” for the finalists, but Greaser and Piot have had to endure quite a grind to have a chance.
Greaser was able to get a 2 & 1 victory over Travis Vick in the first semi and Piot took advantage of some Nick Gabrelcik miscues to win 4 & 3 in the second.
“I got some putts to fall and that was the difference,” Greaser said. “And I kept just plugging along.”
Perhaps the second-most difficult thing for Greaser was learning to deal with the crowd, which was estimated at 2,500.
“I never had to maneuver through a crowd like the one on No. 1,” he said. “Never played in front of that many people and I was trying to through and pick out the flag among all those golf shirts.”
Greaser was 1-up after 8 holes, by Vick posted back-to-back birdies at 9 and 10 to retake the lead at 1-up.
And that’s when the bottom fell out for Vick.
Greaser won the next four holes with birdies and suddenly was 3-up.
“When I made the putt on 14 (after driving the green on the par 4, a distance of 340 yards),” I felt like it might be over,” Greaser said.
Vick made it close by winning the next two holes with pars but a bogey on 17 sealed the deal.
“It was a great atmosphere out there, but I definitely didn’t have my A game,” Vick said. “I thought the week has been a tremendous success, but I was definitely disappointed walking off that 14th green. I felt like Santa Claus out there, giving him as many gifts as I did.”
In Piot’s victory, he got off to a slow start and was tied after eight holes, but then he turned up the heat on his game.
“I told my caddie we just had to start finding some fairways,” Piot said. “I just missed a lot of putts. I didn’t feel a lot of pressure, but once I got one, I settled right in there. It was pretty cool once I clinched, I went over and my dad a big hug.”
It was a struggle most of the day for Gabrelcik. He won the first hole lost the next two and then won the fifth to even the match. He negated a Piot birdie with one of his own eight, but that was about it.
The match lasted 15 holes and Gabrelcik didn’t win another hole.
“I just didn’t have it today, with any of the clubs in my bag,” Gabrelcik said. “But this week has been the highlight of my life. This experience has been great.”
Greaser and Piot begin their long final day at 9 a.m. They’ll play 18 holes in the morning and then tee it up again at 2:30 for the final 18 unless one of the two gets closed out.
Viewers at home will not see any of the first 18 holes and the first hole of two of the second round because TV coverage does not begin until 3 p.m. From 3-4 The Golf Channel will provide coverage and NBC will finish it off from 4-6.
Nobody said the finals of the 121st U.S. Amateur would be anything but a struggle to the very end.
It wasn’t because of major championship pressure, or the dearth of talent between Austin Greaser and James Poit.
No, outweighing all of those was one word: Oakmont.
One of the world’s most iconic layouts, Oakmont faced a 312-man siege with half of them playing on Monday, the other half Tuesday. The results of those rounds? The average score was 76.07.
If there were any doubts about just how difficult it was going to be, that number did the trick.
These national amateur events are traditionally a grind, a difficult week in trying conditions. And it was all of that and more.
But as the two hit the final nine holes of the 36-hole final Sunday, Greaser was 3-up and playing well. But all of a sudden, the wheels started wobbling and then came off for him. He lost four holes in a row and five out of six.
Think about that for a minute.
“I didn’t execute at all on the back,” said a crestfallen Greaser. “It’s hard to miss these fairways and expect to do well. I know because I did a lot of that on the back nine.”
And it was just about then, early on the back side that things really started to click for Piot. But it wasn’t until there was a little more adversity. He bogeyed the 19th and 20th holes of the day to fall behind. When Greaser birdie the 27th hole, his lead had grown to 4-up with 8 holes left.
“My caddie and I talked, and I told him I set my goal as shooting four-under on the back,” Piot said. “I finished three-under so that was pretty good.”
All of a sudden, everything was pretty good for him. Over the next four holes, he birdied 2 and parred 2. And that run put him back in control.
“Right after 12 (where he scrambled to make a hole-winning par) I kind of felt like I was in pretty good shape,” Poit said.
With a couple carloads of Michigan State fans on the course rooting him on, Piot was clutch on the way in and the match was closed out on 17.
“I didn’t want to play 18 again, that hole is too hard,” Piot, 22, laughed. “This is the greatest feeling in the world. When I made the putt on 17, I said to myself, ‘Oh my god, you may have done it! What this does is validate me by the way I finished up.”
The victory, which adds his name to a list of some of the game’s greatest names, is the first by a Michigan-born golfer.
Greaser, 20, who plays collegiately at North Carolina, admitted that the greens were firmer and faster Sunday and that they messed with him a few times on the back 9.
“But hey, this was a great experience and it’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Greaser said. “It’s just tough to know you let one like this get away.”
About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and 33,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund.