Richie Ramsay, 23, of Scotland, won four of six holes with birdies to take a 3-up lead after 13 holes and then held on the rest of the way to beat John Kelly, 21, of St. Louis, Mo., 4 and 2, in the 36-hole final of the U.S. Amateur championship Sunday at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Ramsay becomes the first Scotsman since 1898 to win the Amateur championship, earning a place in the next U.S. Open and British Open, and a likely invitation to play in the next Masters Tournament.
Kelly cut Ramsay’s lead to 1 up in the afternoon round with a winning birdie on the 21st hole, but could get no closer. The match ended on the 34th green, when Kelly conceded Ramsay’s 12-footer for birdie after his own birdie putt from just a bit farther away lipped out.
"I can’t believe my name is going to be on that trophy," said Ramsay, the winner of the 2005 Irish Amateur Stroke Play Tournament. "I’m quite speechless right now and close to tears. Everything went according to plan. I can’t believe it!
"I think this could have a big impact on Scottish golf," Ramsay continued. "I’m just a guy from Aberdeen who loves playing golf. I work hard at it, and it just shows what someone can do when they put their mind to something. I think the celebration will last quite a while when I get home."
Three of the last four Amateur champions have been foreign-born, with Ramsay joining 2003 winner Nick Flanagan of Australia and 2005 winner Edoardo Molinari of Italy.
Ramsay was unstoppable in the afternoon, hitting all but two fairways and all but one green.
"He stuck it to me all day," said Kelly, a senior at the University of Missouri and the 2006 Missouri Stroke Play champion. "But I can’t be too disappointed. I was a nobody and now I’m a somebody, I think."
Ramsey and Kelly each won two of the first eight holes, but Ramsey’s birdie on the par-3 eighth started a three-hole run that put him comfortably ahead at 2 up. He took advantage of Kelly’s misfortune on the ninth and won the hole when Kelly conceded his 15-foot putt for birdie, and then sank a 20-footer for a winning birdie on the 10th.
Ramsay also took the 13th by concession when Kelly missed his tee shot to the right and needed two chips to get on the green. Ramsay had again put the pressure on by hitting his long-iron tee shot to within 18 feet of the hole.
"Without being big-headed, if I go out and play my game and play the shots that are in my bag, there’s no reason why I can’t win," said Ramsay earlier in the week. "You’ve got to think you can win."
Kelly trimmed Ramsay’s lead to 2 up at the halfway point when Ramsay putted his 50-foot birdie chance off the green and made a bogey to lose the 17th hole, his first bogey since the first hole of the day. It would be his last.
He was the equivalent of three under par for his morning round, with the usual concessions given for match play. He finished the equivalent of six under par for 34 holes over the longest Amateur course ever, a 7,473-yard layout that has been host to the 1970 and 1991 U.S. Open and the 2002 PGA Championship.
A senior at Scotland’s University of Stirling who will graduate in December with a marketing degree, Ramsay was the more experienced of the two finalists. He was among the 10 top amateurs chosen to the 2005 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad, even though his memories are bitter sweet.
His team lost to the USA amateurs and Ramsay was not selected to play in any of the 16 singles matches over the two-day competition. Ramsay hasn’t forgotten the experience.
"I’ve had the 2007 Walker Cup in the back of my mind ever since," said Ramsay, who is committed to staying an amateur until at least September 2007.
Kelly’s claim to fame before this week was his state title and a local win at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis.
"I haven’t done a whole lot, I’ll admit that in my career up to this point, but I believe in my game and I believe I’m a good player," said Kelly. "That counts for just as much as anything. If you believe that you’re a good player, I think that’s huge."
Ramsay was most awed by winning a spot in the 2007 British Open, which will be played at Carnoustie, an hour’s drive from his home in Aberdeen, where he is a member at Royal Aberdeen.
His hometown friend, Paul Lawrie, won the British Open at Carnoustie in 1999. And he encouraged Ramsay throughout the seven-day championship with daily text messages.
The Amateur is the oldest of the 13 national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association, and notable Amateur winners include Bob Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.