U.S. Amateur: James Piot wields ‘garbage’ putter to take the title

From humble beginnings, the story of the first champion from Michigan

By Jordan Perez

OAKMONT, Pa. — In the same way Arthur retrieved the Excalibur, James Piot trusted a “garbage” putter to take the 2021 U.S. Amateur title, defeating Austin Greaser, 2 and 1, on Sunday in the 36-hole final at Oakmont Country Club.

Piot didn’t exactly pull a sword from a stone—his dad bought the Ping Piper H at a golf shop in their hometown of Canton, Mich. That was 10 years ago. Piot calls the putter “not the best looking thing” but has used it on-and-off hroughout his amateur golf career. Just before his 2021 U.S. Amateur qualifier, Piot rummaged around in the basement, looking for his old putter and some new magic. 

Fast-forward to Sunday afternoon. Piot used the banged-up putter to hole the biggest putt of his career, a 20-footer to save par on Oakmont’s 17th green, the 35th hole of the day. When Greaser lipped out his birdie putt, the championship was Piot’s, ending a match that featured dramatic momentum swings from start to finish.

Piot won the second hole of the day, but Greaser took a 1-up lead by holing out from a greenside bunker at the 5th. Piot answered with three straight wins starting at the 9th, but then Greaser took three of the next four holes. Undeterred, Piot won 16 and 18 to take a 1-up lead into the lunch break. The win at the home hole featured an approach shot to 5 feet, leading to a conceded birdie.

How tense was the morning round? “I was literally about to puke,” said Greaser’s girlfriend, Alayna Liskey.

After lunch, Piot promptly gave back his slim lead, thanks to an errant tee shot at the 19th hole. Greaser won two of the next three holes as well. When Piot bogeyed the 27th hole he was 3 down. But he didn’t panic. He set a goal of playing the final nine in 4 under par. Pretty audacious considering the venue, but Piot was determined to turn up the heat. “I kind of knew in the back of my head from leading matches that you’re just not fully comfortable out here when you’re in control,” he said. 

Piot had owned the brutal 10th hole all week, making six straight pars on the 474-yard par-4, winning it five times (against one tie), including in the morning over Greaser. Once again he delivered, this time with an approach to 4 feet for a birdie that launched his comeback.

Greaser had a sloppy three-putt at the next hole and then he bogeyed the par-5 12th with another three-putt, this one from long distance. Just like that, the match was all square again. Piot went ahead with a conceded birdie at the par-3 13th, then hit an exquisite chip shot for a conceded birdie at the next. Greaser stemmed the momentum with a 20-foot birdie putt to tie, but he lost the 15th after his tee shot found the famous church pew bunkers down the left side.

After exchanging pars at the par-3 16th, the players drove into the same bunker left of the 17th green. Piot played his second into a bunker across the green. Greaser had about 8 feet for birdie. When Piot’s next sand shot raced well past the hole, the match seemed headed for the 18th tee. But then the Ping Piper H came through.   

Golfers from the Michigan State men’s and women’s teams were there for the celebration that ensued, including childhood friend Andrew Walker, who played the U.S. Amateur when he was just 14.

“A lot of people are saying it’s unbelievable,” Walker said of his former teammate’s victory. “It’s not unbelievable, though, because James, that’s who he is. He puts in the work and he performs under pressure situations.”

The Michigan roots have defined Piot. He felt slighted by the geographical disadvantage of hailing from cold, snowy environs and navigated his college recruitment with a serious chip on his shoulder. “There’s a lot of talent that does come out of Michigan, but very few get down and get the opportunity to play in the South,” the fifth-year senior said.

And now thanks to Piot, Michigan can claim its first U.S. Amateur champion. He did it by playing those last eight holes without a bogey and in 3 under par. The victory comes with exemptions to next year’s Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship.

Expect Piot to arrive wielding his Excalibur. The Havemeyer Trophy can serve as his shield.

–Jordan Perez

james piot

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