Pinehurst Lookback: 2008 U.S. Amateur
By Joey Flyntz, USGA
This is the fourth in a weekly series of notable championships played on Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C. Pinehurst No. 2 is the site of the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, which will be played in June in back-to-back weeks on the same course for the first time.
Three years after Michael Campbell’s 2005 U.S. Open triumph, another New Zealand golfer claimed a USGA championship on the hallowed grounds of Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 with a history-making performance in the 2008 U.S. Amateur Championship.
With the U.S. Amateur returning to Pinehurst No. 2 after a 46-year hiatus, Danny Lee became the youngest champion in the 108 years of the championship.
At 18 years, 1 month, Lee surpassed Tiger Woods by six months as the youngest U.S. Amateur champion. Woods had established the record in winning the first of his three consecutive U.S. Amateurs in 1994.
Lee was rarely challenged over his six matches, with his 3-and-2 semifinal decision over future PGA Tour winner Patrick Reed, of Augusta, Ga., his closest call.
In the 36-hole final, Lee birdied six of his last eight holes to defeat Florida State sophomore Drew Kittleson,19, of Scottsdale, Ariz., 5 and 4.
The newly-minted champion and record-setter was even-keeled regarding his feat.
“It’s a special thing that I’m the youngest U.S. Amateur champion, but I don’t think… it’s not a big deal,” said Lee, who had been a semifinalist at the 2006 U.S. Junior Amateur.
Perhaps Lee was right that it wasn’t a big deal, as Byeong-Hun An, of Korea, eclipsed his record the very next year at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., winning at 17 years, 11 months and 13 days.
Lee, who was born in Korea but moved to New Zealand when he was 8 years old, came into the U.S. Amateur with high credentials. He had won the 2008 New Zealand Amateur, and a couple of weeks before he arrived at Pinehurst, he claimed the prestigious Western Amateur.
In the championship match, Kittleson drew first blood with a birdie at the first hole, an advantage he would keep through eight holes. Lee, who represented New Zealand at the 2008 World Amateur Team Championship in Australia, then took his game to another level.
He squared the match with a par on the par-3 ninth, then went into overdrive with four birdies on the ensuing six holes to open a commanding 5-up advantage. Lee moved to 6 up on the 20th hole, but Kittleson responded by claiming four of the next five holes to cut the deficit to 2 down. Lee rallied with four consecutive birdies of his own to move back to 4 up.
“He put lots of pressure on me,” said Lee.
Lee birdied a remarkable 13 of the 32 holes of the championship match, and Kittleson could do little more than appreciate his opponent’s performance.
“Usually, I’m not the guy who would be so happy for the other guy when that’s happening,” Kittleson said. “But it was kind of fun to watch. What are you going to do?”
By winning the U.S. Amateur, Lee earned an invitation to the 2009 Masters, and exemptions into the 2009 U.S. Open and British Open. That meant a traditional U.S. Open grouping with reigning champion Tiger Woods and reigning British Open champion Padraig Harrington.
“That’s a special thing,” said Lee when he was apprised of the impending grouping with Woods. “Wow. I’m going to beat him.”
But it didn’t work out that way. Lee turned professional following his Masters appearance, and by doing so forfeited his U.S. Open and British Open exemptions. Kittleson also received a U.S. Open exemption as the U.S. Amateur runner-up and missed the cut at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y.
Lee has gone on to enjoy success as a professional, winning the 2011 WNB Classic on the Web.com Tour in a playoff over 2011 USA Walker Cup competitor Harris English. He finished 15th on the 2013 Web.com money list to earn PGA Tour playing privileges for the 2014 season.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.