PINEHURST — Like many who play Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 Course, William Nottingham thought about Payne Stewart as he lined up a putt on the 18th green of the historic golf venue Friday morning.
A statue of Stewart striking the celebratory pose after his putt at 18 to win the 1999 U.S. Open sits to the left of the green, but Nottingham didn’t need that reminder. The 18-year-old from Kingsport, Tennessee, was facing his own date with destiny, hoping that a putt to the exact location where Stewart made his legendary shot would win the 117th Men’s North & South Amateur championship.
“On my last putt there, actually, I was thinking of Payne Stewart because that pin is in a very similar spot,″ Nottingham said later, after winning the 18th and securing a 1-up triumph against James Anstiss of New Zealand. “It’s really special to win on one of the last few holes, especially 18, where so many great champions have come through here. I was just glad to get it done.″
Nottingham, who just completed his freshman season at Clemson, didn’t make his first putt at 18, but got it close enough to pick up for par in the match-play event. He then watched as Anstiss pulled a potential match-tying 4-foot putt right of the hole to earn him the Putter Boy trophy also owned by former champions such as Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Corey Pavin.
The dramatic finish capped a week at No. 2 that began Monday and Tuesday with stroke-play qualifying to trim an original field of 90 players to 32 for three days of match play.
Anstiss, a member of the Southeastern Louisiana golf team, had breezed through his quarterfinal and semifinal matches to make the finals. He, too, had visions of Pinehurst history in his head. As a youth growing up in New Zealand, he was inspired watching countryman Michael Campbell capture the 2005 U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst No. 2.
But after taking a 2-up lead after nine holes against Nottingham, Anstiss let the lead slip away with bogeys at the par-4 11th and 14th holes. The duo would halve the next two holes before heading to the tee box at the par-3 17th.
“I knew that green was firm, but it came out perfect,″ Nottingham said. “I thought it was pretty close (to going in), but then I saw it just roll past the hole.″
Rain began to sprinkle as Anstiss missed a birdie attempt and Nottingham sank his to take a 1-up lead. By the time both walked to the 18th tee, rain was pouring, which may have attributed to both hitting drivers off the fairway to the right before play was suspended.
When the players headed back to the course about 25 minutes later, Nottingham’s second shot hit the top of a bunker and rolled into the fairway well short of the green. Anstiss’ second landed just in front of the green, and he subsequently chipped up just past the hole.
Nottingham’s approach landed about 20 feet below the hole, setting up the nail-biting finish.
Though disappointed by the way he finished, Anstiss received quite the consolation prize when Pinehurst Resort’s media relations manager, Alex Podlogar, handed him a cellphone.
“It’s Michael Campbell,″ said Podlogar, who had arranged the call for Anstiss, win or lose, on Friday.
“That was pretty unexpected. That’s pretty awesome,″ Anstiss said. “He just told me to keep my head high and focus on the positives from the week. Obviously, it wasn’t the result I wanted. But I can take a lot from this going forward. It’s a steppingstone in my career.″