University Place, Wash. — Peter Uihlein will celebrate his 21st birthday on Sunday. The present he most desires only he can give himself — the Havemeyer Trophy for winning the 110th U.S. Amateur Championship.
"That would be picture perfect," said Uihlein, of Orlando, Fla. "No better way to script it, but I’ve still got to go out and play well."
Uihlein advanced to the scheduled 36-hole final at Chambers Bay with a 4-and-3 victory over Patrick Cantlay, a UCLA freshman-to-be. He will meet David Chung, a 1-up winner over 2009 U.S. Amateur champion Byeong-Hun An.
In contrast to Friday’s emotionally draining 1-up win over friend and fellow Oklahoma State University teammate Morgan Hoffmann, Uihlein won the opening hole against Cantlay and never trailed.
"I just happened to make a few more putts than [Cantlay]," Uihlein said. "It was a good match, he was a great kid and I had a good time. Playing with Hoff yesterday, it’s always difficult. It’s hard to play a friend, and I’m just fortunate enough to be sitting here."
Chung, who knows Uihlein dating back to their days on the junior golf circuit, acknowledged Uihlein as a great putter, and Uihlein showed why against Cantlay. Uihlein, after winning the 542-yard par-5 first hole, made putts of 12, 20, 6 and 15 feet to halve the next four holes.
Uihlein won the 191-yard, par-3 ninth after hitting his approach to within 8 feet and had his par conceded. After losing the 320-yard, par-4 10th hole, Uihlein took control by winning the 500-yard, par-4 11th and 496-yard, par-4 14th holes with two-putt pars to go 3 up.
At the 251-yard, par-3 15th, both players found the front bunker. Cantlay found the back bunker with his second shot, and when Uihlein chipped his to within concession distance, Cantlay failed to chip in to halve the hole.
"I played all right, stuck to my game plan and did everything like I wanted," said Cantlay, who trailed just four holes in four matches prior to the semifinal. "A couple of miscues, but for the most part I hit it good, rolled it good and didn’t get anything to fall."
As a result, Uihlein marches on.
Uihlein is subjectively considered the nation’s top amateur. To win Sunday, though, he must defeat Chung, 20, a Stanford University junior, who is arguably the second-best player.
During a breakout sophomore season in Stillwater, Uihlein posted three wins, including the NCAA Southeast Regional, and tied for second at the NCAA Championships. This summer, he won the Sahalee Players at The Home Course — the second stroke-play qualifying venue for this year's U.S. Amateur — and tied for second at the Porter Cup.
"I've known him for a long time and we're really good friends," Chung said. "I know he's a great putter. He hits it far. Really knows his weaknesses and extremes, so I expect him to play well."
A strong case could be made that Chung, not Uihlein, is presently playing the best golf.
Chung went 4-0-0 in June’s Palmer Cup, reached the North and South Amateur semifinals and then won the Porter Cup and Western Amateur in preparation for this week.
And, dating back to 2005, Chung owns a 2-1 match play record against Uihlein. In their last meeting, Chung won 1 up in the NCAA Championship’s Team Match Play Quarterfinals.
By reaching the final, Uihlein has already qualified for the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club and will likely receive an invitation to the 2011 Masters. A win would likely add a trip to the British Open.
"It’s pretty cool," he said of the thought. "It definitely hasn’t sunk in yet, but hopefully it will tomorrow."
Maybe as he blows out the candles on his birthday cake.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship websites.