University Place, Wash. – That David Chung lost the 110th U.S. Amateur Sunday at Chambers Bay while authoring the signature shot of the match might say more about his abilities, aptitude and attitude than the 4-and-2 setback he suffered at the hands of Peter Uihlein.
Players with promise exhibit poise and panache at crucial times in the course of a round. The kind of poise that Chung exuded on the par-5 eighth hole, the 26th of the final, when he appeared to be sculpting a ghastly monument to every 20-handicapper who has tried to navigate one of the steep hills at this sprawling public facility hard by Puget Sound.
Chung, trailing 3 down at the time, hooked his tee shot into the hill, and his ball settled into deep fescue. With the ball well below his feet, he barely moved his 5-iron second shot more than a few yards, and then he topped his third, again with a 5-iron, even farther up into the slope. He punched his fourth down the fairway, but the hole appeared surely lost with Uihlein near the green in two.
Chung had other ideas.
I had a feeling on the fifth shot, he admitted after equaling his best finish in a USGA event; he also was runner-up in the 2005 U.S. Junior Amateur.
The ball released toward the back of the green, reversed direction off the slope, and then tracked to the hole. He didn’t see it go in, but the crowd reaction confirmed the result, and he raised his hands to acknowledge the cheers.
Uihlein calmly got up and down for birdie to increase his lead, but even he acknowledged how special the moment was.
I thought that hole-out on eight was pretty cool. That was pretty sweet, said Uihlein, who triumphed on his 21st birthday, after a well-contested match along the windswept dunes of idiosyncratic Chambers Bay. That’s the way you want to win the hole. You want to earn it, and he made me earn it, so that was sweet.
Chung, 20, of Fayetteville, N.C., arrived at Chambers Bay arguably the hottest amateur golfer in the world. The Stanford University junior had won his previous two starts at the Porter Cup and Western Amateur. Before that he had gone 4-0 in match play to help the USA win the Palmer Cup at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. To reach the final, he had to beat Langley in the quarterfinals and rally from 3 down to eliminate defending champion Byeong-Hun An.
He appears to traverse the golf course with a quiet soul, which is rare for a player of any age, but especially one still shy of the legal drinking threshold. Dispassionate he isn’t; he wears a veneer predisposed to a smile. Perspective guides his demeanor.
I’ve never really played well when I’m hot, said the soft-spoken Chung. When I try to be super intense … I try to take as much pressure off myself as possible. You know, I enjoy playing rounds with buddies at home or going out to play in, like, three hours. I don’t think very much and just have fun, and that’s how I try to keep it on the golf course.
I have a lot of good things going on in my life. Golf is super fun and super competitive, and it’s important to play well, but there are a lot of other things to fall back on in case things go bad on the course.
Of course, things haven’t gone badly very often this summer. The game does tend to be more fun when success becomes a staple. But there is more to it than winning. Chung admitted to savoring the challenge of difficult shots and relishes experimenting during practice. That served him well at Chambers Bay.
Imagination is paramount. It’s a trait you have to have out here to play this course, and links golf in general. That’s something Peter’s really good at, and I’m pretty decent at it too, seeing a lot of ways to approach a shot and then figuring out what you’re most comfortable with, he said. You have to be creative; you have to be imaginative. I enjoy basically using my imagination on the course. I think that’s what kind of separated us, too, from the first of the field this week.
David’s an unbelievable match play player. He’s got such a good game; he’s not weak in any aspect, said Uihlein, a junior at Oklahoma State University who will see Chung again soon, in late October in Argentina, as a teammate with NCAA champion Scott Langley on the USA squad at the World Amateur Team Championship. He hits it pretty far for his size, too. He’s quite the player, and he’s got a bright future.
Chung, whose improved ball-striking under the tutelage of Adam Schriber was evident all week, said his immediate plans are to return home and pare down his golf activities for a few days before returning to Stanford Sept. 9. Then it’s back to work, and he has both the desire and incentive to refine his game, what with a U.S. Open berth secured and a Masters invitation likely in the offing.
I’m going to take a few weeks off and rest, and maybe [play] just a little golf, but mostly I want to assess where I can get better, Chung said. Basically, I think I can be a lot more consistent. There are parts that I can work on and make more solid. I’ll find them and address them and get better.
He’ll get better not because it’s of paramount importance in his life or because it defines him. No. It’s simply what a player with promise does naturally.
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA championship Web sites.