Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Michigan State's James Piot wins 2021 U.S. Amateur

August 16, 2021
<p>James Piot tees off at the NCAA Championship at Grayhawk Golf Course in Scottsdale, Arizona. - Courtesy of Spartan Athletics </p>

James Piot tees off at the NCAA Championship at Grayhawk Golf Course in Scottsdale, Arizona. - Courtesy of Spartan Athletics

With nine holes remaining in the championship match of the U.S. Amateur golf tournament, James Piot was facing his largest deficit in match play in the tournament trailing North Carolina’s Austin Greaser by three holes at Oakmont Country Club.

Piot won the first four holes of the back nine in the second round of the 36-hole championship to reclaim the lead over Greaser and did not relinquish the lead again to become the first Michigan State golfer and first golfer from the state of Michigan to win the U.S. Amateur. 

Piot clinched his victory on the 17th hole after sinking a 20-foot putt to save par after going bunker to bunker on his second shot. Greaser’s birdie putt could have sent the championship to the final hole but lipped out, cementing Piot as the champion and put his name next to some of the greatest names in golf history that won the U.S. Amateur.

“It's the greatest feeling in the world,” Piot said in the release. “As an amateur, it's the best thing you can do. Making that putt on 17 was just like, ‘Oh, my God. I might've done it.’”

He celebrated with his MSU teammates and coaches on the fringe of the 17th green before getting the gold medal and the gold-plated Havemeyer trophy, which will reside with Piot in East Lansing for the next year. 

Piot capped off his summer campaign with the biggest win on the amateur golfing circuit after having one of the most successful seasons in Michigan State men’s golf history. He was the first men’s golfer to compete at the NCAA tournament since 2002 and now Piot has pushed his game to another level.

At the beginning of the summer, Piot said that he needed to improve his approach to the game mentally and fix his putting. Both were on display and crucial to Piot’s improbable comeback in the final nine holes. 

“At the beginning of the day I kind of put a goal in my head,” Piot said. “I said, ‘You shoot even par today you will have some good chances’. Obviously, I knew they would have it set up hard and the greens getting faster, so I knew I was kind of a lot over par, and I said, All right, we're going to do what we do every tournament, especially Big Ten golf.”

He said his goal was to play the back nine four-under after surrendering four holes to Greaser on the front nine of the second 18 to trail by three. He began the comeback by hitting a nine iron to 10 feet for birdie on the 10th hole.

Piot went on to win the 11, 12 and 13 holes to quickly reclaim his lead and did not give Greaser another chance in the match. Piot caught fire with his irons and putter, hitting big shot after big shot to keep the pressure on Greaser to come back.

Piot took a two-up advantage into the 17th hole, needing to only tie it to clinch victory. Greaser and Piot both hit their tee shots into the greenside bunker on par 3. Piot hit his second shot below the pin, but the ball rolled through the slick green to the bunker on the other side, setting up Greaser to win the hole and send it the last hole of the championship.

Piot’s third shot out of the bunker left him with about a 20-foot putt for par.

And Piot stepped up and sank it like it was a tap-in. Like the greens at Oakmont aren’t some of the hardest to read in the world.

The putt to save par shifted the pressure back to Greaser who had a 10 to 15-foot putt for birdie to win the hole.

Greaser’s putt had the right line, but was moving too fast and hit the edge of the cup and bounced out. And with that, Piot became a U.S. Amateur champion, joining the American golf elite that includes Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. 

Piot finally let the serious look fade when the putt missed. He shook Greaser’s hand and then gave a big bear hug to his caddy MSU assistant coach Dan Ellis. The smile that Piot had not had all day now couldn’t be wiped from his face on the 17th green.

“It feels phenomenal,” Piot said. “Shows the hard work I've done is paying off.”

With the win, Piot qualified to compete in three of the four major golf tournaments in 2022 on the PGA Tour, the U.S. Open, the Open and the Masters. 

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Editor's note: this article has been updated to clarify details from the final round of the U.S. Amateur


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