Erin, Wis. – Until this week, Kelly Kraft had never played a match in the U.S. Amateur, having missed the cut in his only other start in 2007 at The Olympic Club. But now he’s won four times at Erin Hills, and he’s one of four players left in the 111th championship.
The 22-year-old from Denton, Texas, has become a quick learner in the world’s biggest amateur golf event, and he proved that again Friday afternoon by dispatching 2011 USA Walker Cup member Patrick Rodgers of Avon, Ind., 6 and 4. He’ll take on another 2011 Walker Cup participant in Great Britain and Ireland’s Jack Senior at 8:15 a.m. CDT in the second of two semifinal matches.
Senior, a 23-year-old from England, rallied to eliminate another Texan, Jordan Spieth of Dallas, 1 up. Spieth won his second U.S. Junior Amateur title last month.
I’ve been playing good all summer, and I came in here to win, said Kraft, who admitted to having limited match play experience, though he did reach the final of the North & South Amateur last year at Pinehurst No. 2. I’m right where I feel I’m supposed to be.
It took a little bit of extra work earlier Friday to get there. Kraft, a recent Southern Methodist University graduate, never trailed in his third-round match against Blake Biddle, but after losing the 18th hole to let Biddle extend the contest, Kraft needed five more holes before prevailing on the 23rd hole. That left him little time before his match with Rodgers, who won the Porter Cup last month.
It might have worked to his advantage. He grabbed a pulled pork sandwich and headed back to the first tee.
Well, I didn’t have to warm up again, he joked. I wasn’t tired at all. I was already quite loose. I basically just kept playing. I didn't have to worry about going through a practice routine or anything before I played. It was just, you know, just ready to hit my next shot.
You know, I felt fine out there. I wasn't that tired, so it was all right.
Rodgers, an incoming freshman at Stanford, never won a hole, but that was hard to do when his opponent rarely missed a putt. I just couldn’t get any momentum, Rodgers lamented. He was four under without a bogey; he played great, he putted great. I needed to do a little bit more on my ball.
It didn’t help Rodgers that he gave Kraft the first hole by making bogey, and Kraft won the second with a birdie. But the turning point came at the fifth when Kraft dropped in a 50-footer from the fringe for birdie to go 3 up. After another Rodgers bogey at the sixth hole, Kraft extended the lead to 5 up at the ninth when he converted another long birdie, this one from 30 feet, while Rodgers missed from about half that distance.
I just putted great, said Kraft, who identified his flat stick prowess as the strength of his game. I hit good shots, and then made putts when I needed to. I didn't miss very many putts out there, especially makeable ones, and a lot of the birdie putts that he had, he had a couple – you know, he hit it inside me a couple times, and I made it before him. And so I just got it in the hole quicker.
Which made the match go quicker.
From there Kraft merely ran out the clock with a string of pars, while Rodgers bogeyed the 14th for the final margin.
Winner of this year’s 2011 Trans-Mississippi and the Texas State Amateur , Kraft didn’t know much about his opponent from abroad. Neither did he care. Why should he? In his only other U.S. Amateur appearance four years ago, he missed the cut. The lack of experience hasn’t hurt him a bit, though.
I just go in, I don't think much about the opponent, said Kraft, bidding to join 2007 champion Colt Knost as U.S. Amateur champions from SMU. I just go in and try to play the best I can, try to make putts.
Hey, that’s working out fine so far.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose material has previously appeared on USGA websites