Men's Golfer Nosler Loses Tough Match At U.S. Amateur

Aug. 25, 2001

by Pete Kowalski, USGA Media Relations

Atlanta - Bubba Dickerson and Robert Hamilton came from behind to win in thrilling fashion Saturday, advancing to the U.S. Amateur final at East Lake Golf Club.

In a match teeming with controversy, Dickerson stormed back to defeat Brian Nosler, 22, of Lake Oswego, Ore., 1 up, on the final hole when he dropped in an 8-foot putt.

For Hamilton, 23, of Carmichael, Calif., the victory provided a memorable present for his father, Dean. The two embraced after Hamilton sank a 15-foot putt on No. 17 to deny 22-year-old Colombian Manuel Merizalde, 2 and 1. As the Hamiltons hugged, Robert whispered, 'Happy birthday, dad.'

In addition to their trip to Sunday's final, Dickerson and Hamilton earned invitations to the 2002 Masters. The winner will receive exemptions into next year's U.S. Open and British Open, as well as a 10-year exemption into the U.S. Amateur, providing he doesn't turn professional.

A tearful Dean Hamilton, celebrating his 50th birthday, was numb, searching for the right words when asked if he ever expected his son to make it to the Masters.

'Not really, but the more we played together, I thought he could get there as he grew up,' he said.

It wasn't easy. Hamilton surprised himself, noting that he had remained focused and clear-minded for most of the week -- even through Saturday's match until he surveyed the final putt. So much so that he referred to it as 'eerie.'

As he approached the green, he stopped and allowed the gallery and officials to walk ahead just so he could clear his mind. Thoughts of the Masters were dancing in his head. In addition, he didn't want Merizalde to seize momentum.

Merizalde had placed his approach far left of the green, a solid 50 feet away from the hole. Hamilton knew, barring a miracle, it would take Merizalde two shots to hole out. As it turned out, Hamilton was a prophet. Merizalde's chip bounded 10 feet past the hole, setting the stage.

'It's tough for him,' said Hamilton. 'But I'm the one who is in the driver's seat pretty much, and if I don't do what I'm supposed to do -- what I've done all week -- then I let him back in the match.'

At the turn Hamilton was 1 down, even though Merizalde was inconsistent off the tee. Merizalde, who struggled with his driving the last two days, changed drivers to more mixed results. Hamilton, though, was accurate, hitting all seven fairways to that point. In contrast, Merizalde hit 4 of 7 on the front side.

Hamilton's driver started to pay dividends after the turn. On No. 12, with Merizalde still 1 up, Hamilton drove 292 yards to intermediate rough on the left. Merizalde wasn't so blessed, finding deep rough on the far left. Merizalde's approach landed in a bunker and Hamilton was able to square the match two strokes later with a par.

That's when Hamilton caught fire. He won the following three holes with pars, as Merizalde's drives became his albatross. Overall, he hit 6 of 14 fairways and 11 of 17 greens. Hamilton, more unfailing, nailed 11 of 14 fairways and 14 of 17 greens.

On No. 16, Merizalde was able to cut the deficit to 2 down, but that's as close he would get.

For Hamilton, who took a year off to work on his game after playing at University of California at Berkeley, the wait was worth it. This is his first Amateur after failing to qualify six previous times.

'It's hard to miss all the time,' he said. 'I remember saying to myself, 'You know, if you can't make it to the Amateur, what, are you really ready to go play on [the PGA] Tour?'

'It's just weird. It didn't really hit me. And I guess because it's such an unattainable goal, sometimes to think about playing in the Masters or finally getting to the Masters, that it just doesn't seem like it's reality.'

His Sunday counterpart, Dickerson, also relayed similar thoughts, calling a Masters invitation a dream. Especially after making it to the finals of last year's U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, only to lose to D.J. Trahan in 37 holes.

Down 1 entering the 16th, Dickerson chipped in from 8 feet to even the match. Then on No. 17, he surprised everyone but himself when he turned the tides with a 45-foot putt to go 1 up.

'Sixteen was a little more surprising,' said Dickerson. 'It was sitting down. But I got a bad break there yesterday and I guess it just rewarded me for the break I got there yesterday.

'I actually told my caddie before I hit [the putt on No. 17] that I was going to make it. I was pretty confident on that. I hadn't made a putt all day.'

The pangs of competition grew a little more fierce in both players after a confusing sequence of events occurred on No. 11. Nosler conceded a 1-foot putt to Dickerson and then put his offering to within 1 foot. Instead of telling Nosler to pick it up, Dickerson simply walked to the next tee, leaving Nosler in a lurch. Thinking Dickerson conceded, Nosler reached down but pulled back before touching his ball, realizing that had Dickerson not conceded, the hole would go to Dickerson.

Officials had to call Dickerson back to No. 11 to make a decision. Much to Nosler's chagrin, Dickerson finally told him to pick it up. But not before Nosler requested USGA President Trey Holland to find out.

'Mr. Holland called him back and asked him if he conceded the putt and he said no,' said Nosler. 'And he asked Mr. Holland if I picked it up. I thought, 'That is about the worst sportsmanship I've ever seen.' Yeah, I made him putt his 2-incher on the next hole.'

Said Dickerson: 'I just forgot to concede a putt to him on 11. And I was so in shock that he missed his par putt -- because he ain't missed anything the whole day -- I walked off. ... And then I guess I made him a little mad there, and he didn't give me a putt that was on the lip on the next hole. So I said, 'Well, if he wants to play that game, I can putt them out if he can.'

Nosler didn't believe the hullabaloo affected his game. It had more to do with Augusta on his mind when he went 2 up at No. 14.

'It's hard to just take one shot at a time out there, not to be thinking ahead,' said Nosler, visibly upset.

Dickerson and Hamilton will meet on the first tee at 9 a.m. for Sunday's 36-hole final.

The U.S. Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually bythe United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

Story written by Ken Klavon, USGA.

Saturday's ResultsAtlanta -- Results of Saturday's semifinal round of match play at the U.S. Amateur at the 7,091-yard, par 70 East Lake Golf Club.

Robert Hamilton, Carmichael, Calif. (141) def. Manuel Merizalde, Colombia (142), 2 and 1.

Bubba Dickerson, Hilliard, Fla. (141) def. Brian Nosler, Lake Oswego, Ore. (141) 1 up.

Sunday's Pairing36-Hole Championship Final Pairing (Times are EDT):

9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. - Hamilton vs. Dickerson.

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