Cottesloe golfer Curtis Luck has emerged victorious in what will likely be remembered as one of the greatest matches in the 116-year history of the US Amateur.
On the South Course of Michigan's Oakland Hills Country Club, Luck came back from the brink on no less than three occasions, eventually ending the fairytale run of home-town hero Nick Carlson on the 21st hole.
Luck will face Oklahoma’s Brad Dalke in tomorrow’s 36-hole final, with the chance to become only the second Australian to lift the Havemeyer Trophy,
As a finalist, Luck is guaranteed one of the biggest prizes offered in Amateur golf – exemptions into the 2017 US Masters and US Open.
As a semi-finalist, Carlson leaves with a chance to try it all again at the 2017 US Amateur.
The numerous assurances of “you’ll get ‘em next year” from Carlson’s legion of supporters added a sombre overtone to Luck's celebrations with his father and caddie Stuart, as well as the small contingent of travelling family members.
And you could hardly blame Carlson for wondering what might have been.
At 1-up on the 17th hole, Carlson was 2m from securing a 2&1 win and a place in the final — but the putt rolled past.
Playing the 10th as the first extra hole, Luck was again in deep trouble, needing to sink a tricky 5m putt to stay alive.
Not only did Luck sink the putt, he walked it in with ice-cool confidence. At the time, it was likely the most clutch shot of the 20-year-old's career — but the match had even more drama in store.
On the 405m par-4 11th, the 20th hole of the day, Carlson went safely down the left as Luck found the right fairway bunker.
Carlson hit his own shot-of-his-life –going inches past the flag to the delight the heaving gallery.
Carlson reacted with almost muted disbelief, yet Luck responded with something just as, if not more, unbelievable – launching out of the bunker and coming to rest imside a metre past the hole, and millimetres past Carlson’s ball.
Even Carlson’s patriotic followers roared in approval of Luck’s game-saving shot. After the pair rammed home their birdie putts for an incredible half, the rivals exchanged a fist-bump in a moment of camaraderie.
When asked if he had ever hit a more important shot in his life, Luck gave an unequivocal answer.
“No. Nope. Not with the situation on hand, and especially after seeing [Carlson’s] second shot into 11 because I didn't have an option, it was a gimme,” Luck said.
“I didn't give [the putt] to him because I'm naughty like that, but yeah, that was a gimme. He was always going to make that. I can't really think of any [shot I’ve made] that would replace that.”
And Luck heaped praise on the gallery of fans that outnumbered Luck's support by a ratio of hundreds to one.
"They were sensational. They really were. I applaud them, because they were so good. Their etiquette was great out there. We didn't have any issues really with people getting in the way," said Luck.
"They were clapping — good shots they were clapping, regardless of the player. And yeah, as I said, at the end of the day, it's always fun to play in front of a large crowd, and that is exactly what it was."
With the fans in support , Carlson never trailed from the first to the 20th hole — pushing Luck to the brink on multiple occasions but failing to break the West Aussie.
On his approach into 21, it was Carlson’s turn to crack, coming up short in the greenside bunker, and again on his splash out — leaving over 20ft for par.
Luck putted within range for a conceded par and for the first time in the match, the weight of survival was on Carlson’s shoulders. His putt was almost good enough, drifting agonisingly left to see Luck move on to the final.
Even as the joyous victor, Luck empathised with his vanquished opponent – highlighting Carlson’s unlucky break on 18 after driving through the fairway.
“Unfortunately for Nick I think he just hit his drive a bit too good from a bit of adrenaline going down 18, and I think just got a bad break under that pine down there,” said Luck.
“Straight off the tee it wasn't looking too bright for me, and I ended up on the tongue of the bunker, but fortunately I had a stance, so I was able to knock it up around the green.
“But that's how golf goes, fortunately for me, unfortunately for Nick. It's pretty cruel like that. You don't have to do much wrong, and he really didn't do a whole lot wrong all day, and one shot cost him quite severely in the end. But yeah, I feel for him. That's golf. It's the sport we play.”
Luck had previously made a point of stressing his desire to win what he called a “bucket list” title, praising the US Amateur as the biggest amateur event in the world. Yet Luck wasn’t given the chance to discuss his feelings about tomorrow’s match with Dalke.
Unlike Friday’s post-quarter final interview, there was no enquiry about his opponent in the analysis. Nor did Luck have the chance to express his feelings about potentially etching his name alongside the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Conversely, we know plenty about Luck’s thoughts about playing Augusta National in eight months’ time, even though Luck isn’t 100% certain he’ll get there.
“From what I've heard from people walking around Augusta, it’s a place where there's not a leaf out of place. I can only imagine — I mean, I don't know if I've got that start in Augusta yet,” said Luck.
“Apparently the invite comes out quite late, that information, but the US Open yet again is notoriously probably the toughest major. Love to test my golf against some of the world's best and I’m really excited for it.”
Another unknown is how Luck feels about playing for a spot at the 2017 British Open, with tomorrow’s winner receiving an additional major exemption.
The lure of Royal Birkdale, the site of Ian Baker-Finch and two of Peter Thomson’s titles, will surely weigh on the mind of Luck as he approaches the first tee — on top of the primary goal of reaching the pinnacle as the US Amateur champion.
Next March, when Luck and his crew roll down Magnolia Lane for the first time, there will no doubt be lofty aspirations to ensure it is not a one-time experience. The same can’t be said about tomorrow’s final, which is certainly Luck’s only remaining chance to make his mark on this historic event.