OAKMONT, Pa. – James Piot made golf history, including some in his home state by becoming the first Michigan native to win the U.S. Amateur Championship Sunday at Oakmont Country Club.
The 22-year-old Canton resident and Michigan State University golfer rallied on the final nine holes from a 3-down deficit to topple Austin Greaser of Vandalia, Ohio, a 20-year-old University of North Carolina golfer, 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final match of the 121st national championship for amateur golf.
“I still don't believe I'm holding this trophy right now,” he told a national television audience after the Havemeyer Trophy presentation. “I still think I'm dreaming. It's definitely something, you know, crazy that internally I thought I have the ability to do it one day, but to actually do it is the greatest thing ever.”
In addition to custody of the Havemeyer Trophy for one year, Piot receives an exemption into the 2022 U.S. Open Championship at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., a berth in the 2022 British Open Championship at St. Andrews, a likely invite to the 2022 Masters Tournament and a 10-year-exemption into the U.S. Amateur should he remain an amateur.
“You dream of it, but you don’t really think it’s going to happen,” Piot said after posing for trophy photos in the wake of his win. “But you know, I had some momentum rolling when I won the GAM Championship, and it was like, you know I’m playing well right now. I told myself to stay in the moment, take one shot at time and keep it rolling.”
Piot, who is headed back to MSU for a final year of eligibility, led 1-up after the first 18 holes of the match but fell behind on the front nine of the last trip around Oakmont.
He was 3-down through 27 holes of play only to win four consecutive holes with a birdie-par-par-birdie stretch (holes 10 through 13) as Greaser faltered. After they tied the 32nd hole of the match, Piot then won the 34th hole to lead 2-up with two holes to play. He rolled in a 20-foot putt for par on hole 17, hole 35 of the match, after bunker trouble, and won when Greaser missed a birdie attempt.
He said going into the final nine holes he felt capable of better golf.
“It was just a little bit of an off day with some errant tee shots, but I’m a grinder so I was looking at it and just said let’s make some birdies.”
He said on the last hole of the match, a short par 4 in which he hit driver into a green-side bunker, he was thinking birdie to end things.
“In the back of my head I’m like birdie here and it’s all over and I hit that tee ball which I thought was perfect. We were both in the bunker and I thought I had a perfect first bunker shot but it came out low and went into the other bunker. I still felt I was going to get it up and down, didn’t hit the best of bunker shots, but rolled in that 20-footer. It was a phenomenal feeling as soon as that putt dropped.”
He said having MSU associate head golf coach Dan Ellis as his caddie, family, friends and fellow Spartans in the gallery was the coolest thing in the world.
“Aside from golf, it lets me know I’m blessed to have the people in the support group that I have in my life. It just means everything to have that. All my close friends and family out here makes it so much better and I’m so happy they were here.”
Ellis said Piot was amazing on the final nine holes.
“He won a bunch of holes on the back nine this week so we stayed as calm as we could,” he said. “He really, on the exterior, looked fine and his mental game was good the whole time. And you know, he obviously executed some great shots down the stretch. But what a fight. I mean to come back when you are three-down with nine to go, and never really look shook up the whole time. It was impressive.”
Ellis said the week was wonderful.
“I’m a big USGA event fan, and you know to be in this arena and to help him achieve his dream here, I won’t forget it, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s probably going to be the most special week of golf in my life, and it makes me happy to think about what this means in his life going forward. It is special and you know James Piot is a big deal now."
Just last week Piot won his second GAM Championship, and in the last two years lost in the finals of the Michigan Amateur to winner Tyler Copp of Ann Arbor, and earlier this summer in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Patrick Sullivan of Grosse Pointe.
“I was joking with my friends, I can’t win the Michigan Am, but I got a U.S. Am and it is the greatest feeling in the world getting it done today and having my friends and family all around me means even more. I’m just blessed, you know, for everything that happened in the past week.”
Piot won two college tournaments last year, won the Michigan Medal Play title to start the summer season, and has played the national circuit as a top-ranked amateur playing in the North and South Amateur in Pinehurst and making the prestigious final 16 at the recent Western Amateur Championship.
“I’m playing well, and I’m going to the U.S. Am and see what I can do,” he said after winning the GAM last week at Franklin Hills Country Club.
He did all he could and his coaches and others were elated and impressed.
Michigan Golf Hall of Famer Brian Cairns and Jordan Young, teachers at Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center in Plymouth, essentially tackled each other in joy while watching the television broadcast in the grille at Prestwick Village Golf Club. They are playing in the historic 100th Michigan PGA Championship starting Monday, but they were elated with the history they watched Piot make.
“I first met him when Jordan was working with him and his brother when I came (to Fox Hills) 13 years ago,” said Cairns who has worked with him since and was at Oakmont this week until Saturday.
“This little kids says to me: How can you get me to the PGA Tour? I was taken back. Who is this snotty kid? But you know what his demeaner has never changed in 13 years of working with him. His ability to focus on one thing and to just keep getting better and better and better is incredible. The prize at the end for him is the PGA Tour. Sorry, I’m emotional. I still can’t believe he just won. It’s a stepping stone on the journey to where he wants to be, but what a huge stone. There is just something different about that kid. I’ve been saying that for a long time.”
Casey Lubahn, the head golf coach at MSU who was in the crowd, said he was proud for golf in the state of Michigan, proud for Michigan State University and proud for a young man he has been blessed to coach.
“The only limits are the ones we put on ourselves, but when you work as hard as he does, and push up that sand hill, you can get to the top,” he said. “That’s James. He was calm, he was confident and this is what happens.”
Lubahn said the win is not shocking, but surprising because winning the U.S. Amateur is such a difficult task for any golfer.
“When adversity struck today and he was down the look on his face never changed,” he said. “He just kept working.”
He said he and Ellis had a feeling Piot would be a special player for the Spartans when he joined his older brother Glen on the team.
“He snuck up on us though,” he said. “He’s one of the best in the world.”
Mike Anderson of Northville, the reigning GAM Mid-Amateur champion, coached Piot for four years on the Detroit Catholic Central golf team. He changed his business travel plans and went to Oakmont Sunday to watch the final match.
“It was last-minute decision, but I’m glad I made it,” he said. “There were a lot of teammates, friends, family, a lot of people from Michigan State there to see him. It was pretty special.”
Anderson, whose team finished second in the state when Piot was a freshman and then won three consecutive state championships, said Piot made the most of a small opportunity afforded by his opponent.
“All of a sudden he won four holes in a row and he just never let up,” he said. “I think he hit the ball the last six or seven holes better than he had hit it all day. The other young man gave him an opportunity, he took charge, stayed in control and won. It was special to see.”
Anderson said Piot always stood out because of his work ethic.
“I’ve been fortunate to have several good players at Catholic Central but James’ work ethic is second-to-none,” he said. “I always thought he would make it on tour. This though, the opportunities it affords him are incredible. The very best players in the world have won this event. I’m so happy for him, so proud for him and his family. He deserves it. He works and works and works.”
Piot is the fourth GAM member golfer to win a USGA national championship in the last 20 years. Greg Reynolds of Grand Blanc won the 2002 U.S. Senior Amateur, Randy Lewis of Alma won the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur and Tom Werkmeister of Hudsonville was medalist as Team Michigan won the USGA State Team Championship in 2016.
Ken Hartmann, senior director of competition and USGA services for the GAM, said Piot’s rally on the back nine was impressive.
“Impressive, impressive, impressive,” he said. “For him to be down like that and then flip the switch. He won that 10th hole in every match this week. (Dan) Ellis told me yesterday that 10 was the big hole for him. He won it this morning. He won it this afternoon. It’s impressive how he stays focused. I’m so happy for him.”
Photo Courtesy of USGA