Italy’s Edoardo Molinari, 24, needed just 18 putts through the 15 holes of the second round and overcame an early 3-down deficit to beat Dillon Dougherty, 22, of Woodland, Calif., for the U.S. Amateur title at Merion Golf Club, 4 and 3.
"That’s pretty good," said Molinari when told of his putting stats and the fact that he was the first Italian to win the Amateur title. "That looked crazy to me too. The way I played was a once in a lifetime.
"I don’t really know the difference between this morning and this afternoon. I was very calm from the beginning. All of a sudden the putts went in this afternoon instead of this morning. I went to the pro shop and bought a shirt because the one I had was all wet from the rain. I asked the guy in the shop for a magic shirt and probably he gave me the right one."
Molinaro’s luck changed and he holed four putts of 25 feet or more in the afternoon. He one-putted 10 times in his last 15 holes.
The match started under rainy skies and Molinari fell 3-down after 11 holes of the first round and was still 3 down at the break of the 36-hole final, but he moved quickly to pull within 1 down with winning birdies on the first two holes of the afternoon. He squared the match with a winning one-putt par on the 504-yard par 4 fifth (23rd) hole.
He took the lead for good two holes later with a birdie from 9 feet before Dougherty missed his birdie try from a couple feet closer. Molinari then won holes 9 (27) and 11 (29) with birdies from more than 30 feet to go 3 up. At that point, he stood 6-under-par for 13 holes in the afternoon, with the normal concessions of match play. He closed the match with another winning birdie from 30 feet on the 15th (33rd) hole.
"I knew he was going to play better than he played in the morning, or at least I planned on it," said Dougherty. "I played pretty good in the afternoon, but he just played unbelievably. A lot of times that’s just what it comes down to, who makes the putts. When he made a lot of those putts, I was inside him and I ended up missing. You don’t expect a guy to make that many putts in a U.S. Amateur final. I just felt like every putt he had was going in, and pretty much almost every one did."
Dougherty, whose father, Dan, was his caddie, never trailed for the first 24 holes. The two golfers traded a couple holes early before Dougherty, a senior at Northwestern University, won holes 9, 10 and 11 with a birdie and two pars for a 3-up lead. Molinari, who will graduate with an engineering degree from Politecnico di Torino next month, righted the ship to take the next hole. But, Dougherty increased his lead again with a winning par on the 17th.
"I don’t want to play any different this afternoon," said Dougherty, before the afternoon session began. "Considering the early rain and the nerves of being in the final, I think I hit a lot of quality shots."
He continued to hit quality shots and stood even par through the 15 holes of the afternoon, good enough to win almost any match contested over the week-long championship.
Each golfer was playing in his first Amateur and won exemptions into next year’s U.S. Open and Masters Tournament by reaching the final. Molinari also is offered a spot in the next British Open.
The exemptions are offered only if the golfers remain amateurs.
Molinari, who won the 2001 Italian Amateur and the 2003 Turkish Amateur, had planned to turn professional this fall and attempt to join the European Tour, where his younger brother, Francesco, already plays, but his success in the Amateur has altered his plans.
He narrowly survived the cut to match play after two rounds of stroke play qualifying, and needed a miracle to hole-out from a greenside bunker on his final hole, just to be one of the 19 players in a playoff for the last 17 spots in match play. He advanced with two consecutive pars, and was on his way.
Molinari is the second Italian to earn a USGA title. Silva Cavalleri captured the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1997. He is the first European to win the Amateur since Harold Hilton of Liverpool, England, won the 1911 Amateur at the Apawamis Club in Rye, N.Y.
The Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. The Amateur is the Association’s eldest championship, first conducted in 1895.