Inside Day 6 at the U.S. Amateur
How two distinctly different qualifiers have intersected, setting up an intriguing final
By Jordan Perez
OAKMONT, Pa.—The 2021 U.S. Amateur finalists are coming off of a sweet wave of recent success, both punching their tickets in qualifiers this summer and excelling in match-play events. Austin Greaser and James Piot will play for the most coveted title in amateur golf on Sunday. A junior at North Carolina who displays a humble temperament, Greaser is looking for the school’s first U.S. Amateur champion in 65 years, after Harvie Ward won consecutive titles in 1955 and ’56. Piot, a Michigan State fifth-year, has been on a tear since mid-July, with a top-10 finish at the Southern Amateur and having reached the Round of 16 at the Western Amateur. Now they face the ultimate test: a 36 hole match play final at fearsome Oakmont, with the Havemeyer Trophy at stake. The champion also receives an invitation to the 2022 Masters and the ’22 Open Championship, assuming he retains his amateur status. (Both finalists already have exemptions into the 2022 U.S. Open.)
Greaser (below) stormed to the final one month after shooting a career-low 62 in his Amateur qualifier. On Saturday, he wore out Texas junior Travis Vick, 2 and 1, in a gritty semifinal. Vick seized control of the match by winning four straight holes with a run that started with a birdie at the par-4 11th.
“Got a putt to drop, finally,” Greaser said with a smile of relief. “Made a couple short ones, so that was a good to see. I think I was nervous from start to finish today, the most nervous I’ve ever been.”
Piot lost the first hole of Saturday’s semifinal against Nick Gabrelcik but won the next two holes and never trailed again en route to a 4-and-3 victory. All square through eight holes, Piot ran off wins on the next three holes, capped by a birdie at the 11th. He closed out the match with a 20-footer at the 15th hole.
“It definitely felt like there wasn’t as much pressure as previous matches because he seemed like he was a little out of sync with the putter,” Piot said. “Definitely took some stress off my shoulders.”
Each of the finalists is drawing inspiration from disparate sources. For Greaser, it is best friend Marissa Wenzler, a sophomore at Kentucky and the reigning Women’s Western Amateur champion, who followed up that victory by knocking off No. 1 seed Rachel Kuehn in the first round of the U.S. Women’s Amateur last week. Greaser and Wenzler (together below) have been close since the age of 12, when they were both members at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio. She says they got into golf purely for fun, before their junior golf careers took off and each became top prospects.
“He’s influenced me a lot more than he knows,” Wenzler said over the phone. “I’m not surprised to see him in this situation just because I know how competitive he is.”
After Wenzler won the grand prize at the Western Amateur, Greaser messaged her with a simple line of encouragement: “Let’s go!” Her response? “OK, it’s your turn now.”
Greaser also expresses a deep admiration for Dustin Johnson’s game and demeanor. “I try to stay as even keel as possible, too,” Greaser said. Wenzler, for one, has taken notice. “Oh, my gosh, I’ve always seen this,” she says. “He is just like Dustin Johnson, the way that he carries himself on the golf course.”
Piot (below) has his own presence. In the past year, he has dived heavily into his strength training, something he believes has contributed to his ability to take on Oakmont’s daunting fairways. “When you hit fairways out here, with how soft it is, it opens up, and that was a big advantage driving it straight today,” he said. “I was making good swings, and when you’re making good swings out here, you just keep the momentum rolling.”
When he got to Michigan State, Piot told coach Casey Lubahn his first goal was to be an All-American. Lubahn suggested he start by earning all-conference honors, but Piot had bigger dreams. He was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, earned first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore and again this season. In May he qualified for the NCAA Championship but failed to advance to the final round. He plans to return to East Lansing in the fall for a fifth season.
“I’ve always had high goals, and that’s been something that has driven me from Day 1, just going over the top,” Pilot says. “And they’re paying off now.”