From it’s overachieving and hard-working staff members to the dedicated corp of volunteers, the Atlanta Athletic Club overdelivered. With two great courses playing under ideal conditions, the club provided an exceptional experience for players, their caddies, their families and the fans who attended the week.
Lee McCoy, a junior who plays at the University of Georgia, asked, “Can we have it here every year?”
The Athletic Club isn’t ready for that, but officials were proud of the way their members responded when asked to support the No. 1 event for amateur golf in the world.
“Our objective from Day 1 was to try and have the best one ever,” said Glenn Cornell, co-general chairman for the U.S. Amateur. “I think we were close.”
The players and their families began to arrive and check in on Friday. There were players from 42 different states, 15 from Georgia, and 23 different countries were represented. Most attended a player’s reception hosted by the USGA on Saturday that featured remarks from Bob Jones IV, the grandson of five-time U.S. Amateur champion Bobby Jones.
The keynote speaker for the reception was Jerry Pate. He won the 1974 U.S. Amateur and the 1976 U.S. Open, the first major championship contested on the Highlands Course. During the course of his remarks the Georgia native told the crowd, “Winning the U.S. Amateur changed my life.”
The players received a unique gift when they registered. They were given a replica of the Calamity Jane putter that Jones used to win his major championships. The club had given much thought to the gift, which they wanted to be memorable. The Calamity Jane idea was conceived by Sean Martin, one of the PGA professionals on the golf staff. Once the idea was proposed, it was embraced.
“That was so cool,” said Fredrick Wedels, who reached the semifinals. “What better tournament gift to get, especially having the U.S. Amateur at the Atlanta Athletic Club and to have inscribed on the back. It’s very cool.”
Some of the players were overwhelmed. David Kleckner, a senior at Oglethorpe University, was so excited that he had to call his college coach, Jim Owen, and tell him about the gift.
“He couldn’t believe it,” Owen said. “That was a home run.”
The U.S. Amateur began in earnest on Monday, when 312 of the world’s best amateurs started their quest for the Havemeyer Trophy. After 36 holes of stroke play, the field was trimmed to the low 64 competitors. The atmosphere, relatively light and congenial a day early, turned serious.
Georgia players had a nice showing and five advanced to the match play round: Ollie Schniederjans, Seth Reeves and Bo Andrews from Georgia Tech, Lee McCoy and Zach Healy of the University of Georgia, and Jimmy Beck of Kennesaw State. Healy was one of four players who survived a 17-man playoff and moved along into the match play. Healy had a little help; Atlanta Athletic Club women’s champion and Georgia commitment Bailey Tardy was his caddie.
Andrews is a member of the Athletic Club and acquitted himself well. He graduated from Tech in the spring and will attend grad school this year. Andrews is uncertain whether he wanted to try professional golf. He reached the second round of match play before being eliminated.
Yang’s run to the championship was aided by the help of Richard Grice, a member of the Board of Directors. Mr. Grice carried the bag for Yang throughout the tournament and may now be the caddie when Yang plays in the 2015 Masters.
Yang spent the week in the home of Scott and Gretchen Levy. They fed him, cleaned his clothes (he only brought four shirts and three pairs of pants) and watched as he signed his first autograph. Gretchen Levy asked him to sign a pin flag as a momento early in the week. He hesitated because no one had asked him for an autograph. By the end of the week he had signed plenty.
It was an incredible week for Yang, a sophomore at San Diego State. He entered the week ranked No. 771 in the world and had learned earlier that his coach had taken away his scholarship. (That’s probably rectified by now.)
Once Yang got started, nothing stood in his way. He beat five players ranked among the top 100 in the world, including No. 1 Ollie Schniederjans of Georgia Tech. After his defeat, Schniederjans asked, “Who is that guy?”
The reaction from the players to the Atlanta Athletic Club was incredibly positive across the board. The hospitality shown to the visitors – for food, housing, transportation, conditions and general kindness – was overwhelming. The fans turned out big on Saturday and Sunday and many endured the inconvenience of a 90-minute rain delay to watch the end of the championship match.
“The experience of being with the players and caddies and families was so wonderful for our members and our hosts,” co-general chairman Charlie Anderson said. “That’s what made it even more special. And seeing the future of our great game made it so rewarding.”
Typical of the reaction from the players was this from Corey Conners, who said, “It’s a first-class place. There were so many volunteers, so helpful, wishing you luck, saying nice things to you. The courses are both nice, both challenging and in immaculate shape. It’s a pretty special place with the history of Bobby Jones and major championships. I feel pretty honored and lucky to be here.”
Nathan Smith, who was playing in his 14th U.S. Amateur, said, “The people were so nice. There’s that Southern hospitality, which I just love, and the course is in immaculate shape. Nothing is out of place, everything’s running smooth and the facilities are unbelievable. I’ve been blown away.”
Dan Burton, the USGA’s chairman of the U.S. Amateur, sent Atlanta Athletic Club general manager Kevin Carroll a note that said, “I think it was a wonderful event in all regards and you should be extremely proud of your team. The USGA and amateur golf won last week, but none more than the Atlanta Athletic Club. Bravo!”