Kraft defeats Cantlay in US Am final

When USA Walker Cup Team member Patrick Cantlay was scheduled to meet Kelly Kraft in the championship match of the 2011 US Amateur Championship at Erin Hills near Milwaukee, the world's number one's credentials looked too much on paper over Kraft .

Combined that with the manner Cantlay had earned his finals berth on the back of impressive wins all week. the world number 1 and a player many consider is the next best thing that yet to hit the professional ranks, was considered the favourite for the final.

The previous day Cantlay, a UCLA sophomore, had defeated Jordan Russell, 4&3, in the first Saturday morning semifinal. In all of his matches he'd fought from behind to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The 2011 Jack Nicklaus Award winner looked primed and ready to claim his first US Amateur title.

Kraft had other ideas and would rain on Cantlay's parade with a stunning 2-up upset in today's 36-hole final.

Kraft had taken the lead when Patrick Cantlay bogeyed the 16th hole, then hung on for a 2-up victory. Earlier and in a sign of things to come Kraft had progressed to be 4-up after 16 holes and 2-up after the first 18 holes Sunday morning, but the match was all square going into the last nine.

A three-time Conference USA Player of the Year, Kraft had progressed to the final after beating Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup Team member Jack Senior of England, 3&2.

"It's awesome and an honour to win this championship," said Kraft.

"I was relaxed out there. Even though my putting was not as good as in previous matches, I really did not putt bad and made putts when I needed to. I was happy being 2-up after the morning against the number one amateur in the world but you play to win on the second eighteen. To win this championship is hard to believe."

As a kid Kraft had his sights set on baseball. By seventh grade golf had become his passion yet he was not a high school star in Denton, Texas, and never won anything of note. At college Kraft studied at Southern Methodist University where his golf results were solid, if unspectacular, and when summer ended, he planned to go back to school and complete a degree in Sociology.

Then Kraft began winning, including the 2011 Texas Amateur and the Trans-Mississippi Amateur in consecutive outings. In 2010, he was finalist at the North & South Amateur and recorded top-10 finishes at the Dixie Amateur and the Jones Cup. His game was on the way up and Kraft decided to test it against the best in the world.

Today's US Amateur title win for Kraft was on the back of solid putting and driving.

After Cantlay three putted the 16th to give Kraft a 1-up advantage, Kraft knew the door for the title had opened and that he needed to close it out as quickly as possible, simply because of Cantlay's closing record in the home stretch of holes here at Erin Hills.

"I was just trying to play one more," said Kraft.

"I said to my caddie lets win it right here on this tee box. I did not want to go to 18 to tell you the truth, as Patrick won both those holes against me in the morning and had played them well all week. When you are playing something like this which is so big there much more pressure out there and you need to close it out quickly."

Kraft was also able to keep his mind and game in perspective, despite playing in the biggest final of his career.

"I got ahead of myself a few times, but I focused on what was coming next, as opposed to after," said Kraft.

The win today also sees Kraft being named in the US Walker Cup team which leaves later in the week for Scotland to play the combined Great Britain and Ireland team in a Ryder Cup style format thats contested biennially.

"It's a dream come true," was Kraft's immediate comment after being told of his selection by USGA officials on the 18th green.

"Winning this is unbelievable, making the Walker Cup team is, you know, is amazing. I just one this tournament then was told I'm off to Scotland. I could not have done that without winning here."

For Cantlay is was again a case of missed opportunities for a title he was eager to claim.

"On 15, 16 and 17th, I made back-to-back mental mistakes and that cost me," said Cantlay at the post final media conference.

"Combine that with some poor shots on 15 and 16 and I was not able to recover. Kelly played solid all day and I had a one up lead going into the last four holes, but I made a five on a 250 yard par 4, and that makes me feel like I threw away the golf tournament."

The fact Cantlay even advanced to the US Amateur final was illustrative as to both his talent and tenacity.

Cantlay displayed pure grit and determination all week no more so than in his round of 32 match against Russell Henley, the Nationwide Tour winner and fellow US Walker Cupper.

Cantlay was 2 down as he played the 17th but chipped in to win the hole, made birdie on the final hole and prevailed in 21 holes. He summoned a similar feat against Max Buckley in the quarter finals, winning the last three holes (including the first playoff hole) to advance.

The Californian has forged his name and reputation following stellar efforts in not missing a cut in four PGA Tour events this year, securing the low amateur at the US Open, shooting 60 en route to a 26th-place finish at the Travelers Championship and finishing in the top 25 at the AT&T National and the RBC Canadian Open.

The interesting thing about Cantlay's ascension to number 1 in the world amateur rankings is that he's done so without a national victory.

He won the Southern California Amateur and was runner-up at the Western a few week's back, where he lost to Ethan Tracy.

It's Cantlay's consistency with numerous finals appearance and top-10 finishes, as well as he's impressive run of form on the PGA Tour that's enable him to claim the top crown over another impressive amateur, the defending champion at these championships, Peter Uihlein.

Cantlay will need to win soon. Unfortunately for him there's being a number of opportunities squandered, but with no immediate plans to progress to the professional ranks, there's bound to be more main amateur titles ahead for the talented 19-year-old.

At present all the attention is on Kelly and rightfully so.

The Texan before today's final never ever thought that he'd win a US Amateur.

"When I got to SMU," said Kelly, "winning the US Amateur probably wasn't a thought."

Not only has Kelly won arguably the greatest amateur title there is, the 22-year-old also in the process secured his flight to Scotland as part of the US Walker Cup team, gained exemptions into the 2012 US Open Championship and British Open Championship, as well as a likely invitation to the 2012 Masters Tournament.

Not bad for a day's work!

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