In 2014, Wedel Left Them Wondering 'What Were You Thinking?'
August 16, 2015 | OLYMPIA FIELDS, ILL.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
It would be nice, Frederick Wedel mused, if people remembered him more for the shot he pulled off than the decision that led to it.
“I’ve had a few people tell me I was stupid,” said the rising senior at Pepperdine University, laughing. “I don’t blame them, I probably was stupid.”
The situation was this: Wedel was 1 down to Gunn Yang in last year’s U.S. Amateur semifinal on the 18th hole of Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course, a par-5 fronted by a pond. Both players were bunkered off the tee, and Yang played first, knocking his second shot into the water. Wedel’s obvious play – to seemingly everyone except him – was to lay up short of the water and leave himself a short approach to the green.
Instead, Wedel hit arguably the most dramatic shot of the championship, a 5-iron to within 6 feet of the hole that turned into a conceded eagle to force extra holes. The shot, combined with the chutzpah of the decision, led NBC Sports on-course analyst Roger Maltbie to direct a mock bow toward the previously unheralded Wedel.
“It’s funny, I was so in the zone that I heard the crowd laughing, but I didn’t know that it was because Roger was bowing down to me,” said Wedel. “A buddy told me about it later – I still haven’t seen the video.”
So, exactly what was Wedel thinking?
“A couple of things went through my head,” said Wedel, who turns 21 on Aug. 20. “First off, I had to win the hole, right? I’m 1 down on 18. The second thing was, can I get there? The answer was yes – I had 207 [yards] to the hole and 196 to cover the water. And I knew I could clear the lip [of the bunker] with a 5-iron. If I put it on the green, I guarantee myself extra holes.”
That thought process didn’t change even when Yang found the water, although a bit of gamesmanship did play into it.
“I had already pulled a club to make him think that I was going for it [before Yang hit],” said Wedel. “The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I could pull the shot off. I was pretty committed by the time it was my turn to hit.”
Though Yang prevailed in 19 holes, Wedel had made a name for himself, with resulting benefits.
“This is a special event for everyone, being the No. 1 amateur event in the world, whether they’re coming back or it’s their first time,” said Wedel, who eliminated four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith to reach the semifinal round. “But for me in particular, it was a wonderful experience to make it that far. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It also opened doors for me to get into all the top amateur events that I want to. It’s been a stepping stone to gain experience and play with the best players in the world.”
Wedel’s world is different from that of many of his peers. He spent several years without the benefit of the guidance of the man who first put a club in his hands at age 2. His dad, also named Frederick, became paralyzed from the neck down when his son was 10, due to a staph infection in his spinal cord. The illness split his family apart and left young Frederick at a loss.
“I really didn’t handle it well,” Wedel told Golf Channel last year. “I just kept having hopes that maybe one day he’d walk again, that we’d figure it out. Eventually I realized he wasn’t going to walk again. It threw me into a dark place for a while.”
Wedel’s father came to a college event in October 2013, the first time he had seen his son play in nearly a decade. “All of a sudden we saw life through Fred’s eyes,” said Pepperdine coach Michael Beard. “What he’s gone through is something that none of us can relate to. He’s kind of figured out life on his own. He hasn’t had his mom or dad there to do it for him, to say this is how it works.”
After going for many years only seeing each other rarely, Wedel and his father spent a week together last summer before the Amateur.
“Things for us have been good,” said Wedel on Sunday, the eve of the championship. “I feel like as I’ve grown and matured, I appreciate that relationship with my dad and value it a whole lot more.”
Since that rousing week in Atlanta, Wedel has improved from No. 619 to as high as No. 204 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (he is currently 223rd). He begins play in this year’s U.S. Amateur at 7:20 a.m. CDT Monday off the 10th tee of the North Course at Olympia Fields, buoyed by the support of his coach, his Wave teammates and his father.
“It’s not easy – he’s been in and out of the hospital,” said Wedel after a pause, when asked about the health of his father, 71. “There are no guarantees, but he’s still mentally sharp, which is great. Last year was a huge jump in his confidence, and mine as well. He’s always believed I could play with the best.”
Wedel has proven he belongs on amateur’s golf biggest stage.
“Whenever I think of that [semifinal] match, I think of that shot,” said Wedel. “If I could go back, I would take my odds laying up – it’s the smart play. Fortunately for me, I was lucky enough for it to work out.”
Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky – and good.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.