2021 U.S. AMATEUR: Muni-Trained Piot One Win From Oakmont Glory
OAKMONT, Pa. — Weather delays at the 121st U.S. Amateur have resulted in anything but a traditional schedule.
Players fortunate and skilled enough to advance have had to play two, sometimes three, matches in a day as the USGA attempts to fit golf into the limited hours free from storms or darkness.
Not that the normal U.S. Amateur schedule allows ample time for rest.
With two rounds of stroke play before a 64-player bracket, finalists end up playing close to 162 holes of golf in a span of seven days. For those keeping score at home, that’s equal to nine rounds.
The compressed chaos helps make the U.S. Amateur one of the most entertaining thrills of the golf season for both fans and players alike. And for Canton, Michigan’s James Piot, it resembles the nonstop grind of golf he played as a kid.
Piot, a Michigan State star who advanced to the U.S. Amateur final with a 4-and-3 win over Nick Gabrelcik on Saturday, got into golf at his father’s encouragement.
Same goes for Austin Greaser of Vandalia, Ohio, who earned his championship berth with a 2-and-1 victory over Travis Vick.
But while Greaser picked up the sport at a handful of private courses in the Dayton area, Piot’s home course was Fox Hills Golf & Banquet Center, a 63-hole public facility in Plymouth, Michigan.
His mom would drop him off there, where he and his dozen friends would chase their ball around all day. His membership covered the par-35 and par-3 courses of the complex, the perfect terrain for their competition.
“For us, it was great. As kids, we would just walk around play as many holes as we can,” Piot said. “It was a cool childhood growing up out there.”
The most holes he ever played in a day: 72. He’ll need to summon that youthful energy tomorrow, when he faces Greaser in a 36-hole match for the world’s prime amateur golf prize.
Those days on the public links have actually helped Piot navigate Oakmont, one of the most exclusive golf clubs on Earth.
“Definitely something that’s helped me improve my short game, for a public course it’s some of the best greens there,” he said. “Flop shots and stuff like that has helped a lot. Going into Oakmont and having some sideways greens, (it) helps.”
Piot’s phone has blown up the last few days with texts and calls from friends and family members, all looking to show support for the kid from suburban Detroit’s deep run in the spotlight.
When he hits the course on Sunday, he’ll have a chance to make history: No golfer from Michigan has ever won the coveted Havemeyer Trophy in 120 previous U.S. Amateur championships.
Greaser felt the hometown pride during his match Saturday, where friends and family strolled with him through the course’s 7,254-yard layout. He estimated at least 30 or 40 of them made the four-hour trip from the Dayton area, and expects more to come for the championship.
When he’s on the course though, he turns his blinders on.
“I don’t know if I can pick out anybody out there,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay focused, trying to walk through the crowd when I can, and just trying to pick the flagstick out of everybody’s shirts out there sometimes.”
Piot and Greaser’s wins Saturday earned them exemptions for the 2022 U.S. Open, and an unofficial-but-understood invitation to next year’s Masters. The winner of Sunday’s long battle will receive a gold medal, the Havemeyer Trophy, and exemptions from more tournaments including the 2022 Open at St Andrews in Scotland.
For Piot, those stakes mean it might be time to put his phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ for the rest of the night.
“I tried to keep it on the down low last night,” he said. “Everybody’s texting me like, ‘Hey you realize you got a shot at the Open and the Masters tomorrow.’
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, thank you I appreciate that,’ but it’s cool hearing from everybody.’ ”