Aug. 19, 2005
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - The 106th U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club can wait.
Santa Clara University junior Eric Lillibridge and Eddie Olson rescheduled their respective plane flights to Pennsylvania for next week's national championship; instead, they will face off in the finals of the 102nd NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship at Spyglass Hill GC Friday.
Lillibridge and Olsen will tee off in the 36-hole final at 7 a.m. The afternoon 18 will commence at noon. Live hole-by-hole match results will be available on the NCGA website starting at 8 a.m
The two rising stars survived a marathon day of quarterfinal and semifinal matches by overtaking prominent opponents in their afternoon battles. Olsen dispatched NCGA veteran Casey Boyns 5 and 4, while Lillibridge outlasted Gary Vanier with a par on No. 18 for a 1-up victory. Boyns and Vanier are no strangers to success in match play events. Boyns is a two-time state amateur champion, while Vanier won this very event, defeating Boyns in the 1997 finals.
Someone who already knows about the rigors of collegiate golf is Lillibridge. The rising senior at Santa Clara is poised to keep Olsen from entering the winner's circle. The 21-year-old got to the semifinals Thursday by beating fellow Green Valley member, Jason Anthony 2 and 1. That win and his semifinal victory over Vanier earned the Bronco his first-ever appearance in the finals.
Lillibridge took his biggest lead in his match against Vanier at 2 up after a par on the 12th hole. But Vanier drew it back to all square when he birdied the par-3 15th from inside five feet. Lillibridge responded with clutch par saves on Nos. 16 and 18 to seal his victory and trip to the finals.
"I just tried to keep it simple today," said Lillibridge, who is competing at Spyglass for the first time. "Normally, my putting is my strength, but today my up-and-down par saves kept me going."
After surviving close calls in the first and second round, Olsen's journey to the finals was never in question. The No. 1 seed cruised in the morning with a decisive 6 and 5 victory over Erick Justesen of NPS, allowing for some extra rest before his match with Boyns. The 18-year-old took control of the match from the first shot. Smooth birdies on three of his first four holes en route to a 3-under par 33 on the front nine all but squashed Boyns' chances for a return trip to the finals. A 25-foot birdie putt from off the green on No. 14 punctuated Olsen's round and ended the match.
"I played my game today," said Olson, who calls Spyglass "one of my favorite courses." The Aptos High graduate admits to playing some of the best golf of his life this summer. "Yesterday, I focused too much on what my opponents were doing. Today, I stayed within myself and played one shot at a time."
The last few weeks have not been restful for the freshman-to-be at UNLV. Coming off of a victory Sunday at the Santa Cruz Amateur, the Aptos native will catch a red-eye flight after the finals tomorrow in order to make it to the start of the U.S. Amateur. Directly after the U.S. Amateur, Olson is due in Las Vegas for the start of his collegiate career.