University Place, Wash. – It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not in his last U.S. Amateur. Certainly not on the 19th hole of the first round.
He had the match in his grasp, bearing down on a 4-footer on the 18th hole to win. When he looked up, the ball moved with slow-motion precision, lipping out. It should have been one of the several ominous signs that this wasn’t to be Drew Kittleson’s day. He should have known that when Brent Martin, 23, eagled the first hole.
Kittleson, 21, of Scottsdale, Ariz., got a taste of near-glory in 2008 when he advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, eventually losing to Danny Lee. He failed to qualify for match play last year. This year taught him that nothing is guaranteed, that getting back to a U.S. Amateur final is almost like winning a lottery, he said.
Now a senior at Florida State University, Kittleson added he has plans to turn professional once he graduates.
He spoke in a reflective tone after losing to Martin, after erasing a 2-down deficit with three holes to play.
It makes it pretty special now that I look back, said Kittleson. I feel like I’m a better player now than I was then and that’s what makes it so frustrating.
Kittleson battled a balky putter most of the day. On the 320-yard par-4 fifth hole, he had the chance to take the lead but pulled a 4-foot birdie attempt. On the 19th hole, he left a 10-footer short that likely would have kept the match alive. And, of course there was the putt on the 18th hole.
No one was more surprised than Martin.
Being the player he is, I thought it was over, said Martin.
Of course, Martin, a senior at Winthrop University, was well aware of his first-round draw. He wasn’t intimated, but respectful.
I just realize golf is golf and I’ve been playing real well this summer, said Martin. If I play well, I feel like I can play against anyone. … But if you told me I’d be standing on the 18th tee all square against Drew, I would have taken that in a heartbeat.
Martin, who never trailed, started to unravel on the 16th hole, giving Kittleson a glimmer of hope. On 16, Martin took what he called a brutal stroke on a 5-foot putt. The ball glided by the hole.
One hole later, the match was all square. Martin couldn’t navigate a ridge on the green and the ball rolled into a collection area, while Kittleson could two-putted from 12 feet for par.
Martin, of LaPlata, Md., never lost his composure.
The way this golf course is, if you leave your ball in bad spots, it’s going to make you look like an idiot, he said.
That’s how Kittleson felt afterward. He offered no excuses.
I just played awful, he said. It was pretty pathetic. It was bad golf.
Certainly not the way he wanted to remember his final U.S. Amateur.
Ken Klavon is the USGA's online editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.