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Flanagan Outlasts Wittenberg In 37 Holes


| Aug 24, 2003 | Oakmont, Pa.

(USGA/John Mummert)

Nick Flanagan, 19, became the first Australian in 100 years and first foreign-born player in 32 years to win the 2003 U.S. Amateur Championship at historic Oakmont Country Club Sunday.

The compact Aussie defeated USA Walker Cup team member Casey Wittenberg, 18, of Memphis, Tenn., in 37 holes, to match Walter Travis as an Australian winner. Flanagan, from Eleebana in New South Wales, won the Havemeyer Trophy 100 years after Travis claimed the last of his three championships in 1903.

To be here this quickly and doing it in such a great tournament is unbelievable,” said Flanagan, who is the second-youngest champion to Tiger Woods, who was 18 when he won in 1994. “I was lucky I had my short game this week because my long game was struggling.

He continued: “I really didn’t think I would be able to beat him today and, luckily, I might have got him on a half-off day. And, it kind of worked in my favor.”

The winner of the 2003 Tasmanian Open in February, Flanagan has been in the United States playing tournament golf since June. During his stay, he won the Pacific Northwest Amateur and qualified for the U.S. Amateur in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Flanagan, who received congratulatory calls from Australian professional Greg Norman over the weekend, grabbed a 1-up lead on the 9th hole and held it for 27 more.

He increased the advantage to 4-up after the morning 18. However, in the afternoon round, Wittenberg erased the deficit and squared the match with winning pars on the 33rd and 36th holes.

On the 37th hole, the 10th at Oakmont, Flanagan won with a par after Wittenberg drove into the fairway rough and could not recover. He becames the seventh foreign-born winner and first since Canadian Gary Cowan won at Wilmington (Del). Country Club in 1971.

"I never played in any kind of atmosphere like that before,” Flanagan said of the 37th hole. “There were thousands of people out there. You’re in a playoff for the most prestigious amateur tournament in the world. If I ever feel that much pressure again, I’ll be very surprised.”

Flanagan, who had to birdie the 36th hole of stroke play to advance to a 14-man playoff for match play Tuesday, did not begin playing golf until six years ago when he watched Tiger Woods win the 1997 Masters.

The club, north of Pittsburgh, has hosted seven U.S. Opens and five U.S. Amateurs since opening in 1903.

In the first all-teenager final since the championship returned to an all-match play format in 1973, both players struggled early with the hard and fast fairways and slick putting surfaces at Oakmont and did not make a birdie until Flanagan knotched a 4 on the par 5 12th.

Wittenberg, who will attend Oklahoma State in the fall, won the Terra Cotta Invitational, the Southern Amateur and Porter Cup this year.

The champion receives a gold medal and custody of a replica of the Havemeyer Trophy for the ensuing year. The runner-up receives a silver medal. The champion and runner-up also receive exemptions from qualifying for the 2004 U.S. Open and are historically extended invitations to the Masters, if they maintain their amateur status. The champion also receives an exemption from the 2004 British Open.

In the semifinals, Wittenberg defeated Lee Williams, 21, of Alexander City, Ala., 5 and 4. Flanagan outlasted David Oh, 22, of Cerritos, Calif., 1 up.

The U.S. Amateur is the oldest of 13 national championship conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.