Georgia Tech’s Andy Ogletree Advances to U.S. Amateur final

Andy OgletreeBy Jerry Ratcliffe

PINEHURST, N.C. Growing up, golf was hard in Little Rock, Miss., for U.S. Amateur finalist Andy Ogletree.

Little Rock is a town of a mere 2,000. There are no street lights to speak of other than the one in the Ogletree family’s yard, where a young, determined youngster spent countless hours putting under its dim glow until he was called into the house.

There’s little to do there. Ogletree said the highlight is a gas station that features a seafood buffet on Saturday night’s. His parents had to haul him 25 minutes to the nearest golf course _ Northwood Country Club in Meridian _ just so he could play the game he loved. When he couldn’t get to Meridian, Andy’s backup was a 200-yard hole with a putting green in his own back yard.

Nothing it seemed was going to hold back Ogletree’s dreams, which continued to live Saturday afternoon when he defeated fellow Mississippian, Cohen Trolio, a spectacular 17-year-old from West Point, where he is a rising high school senior. In a monumental battle over famed Pinehurst No. 2, it was the first time two Mississippi natives had made it to the U.S. Am quarterfinals.

Ogletree, a senior at Georgia Tech, prevailed, 3 and 1, and will face Vanderbilt golfer John Augenstein in Sunday’s 36-hole championship. Augenstein, a veteran of the U.S. Am, downed William Holcomb of Crockett, Texas, 3 and 2.

Sunday’s championship will be played over two courses, the morning round on Pinehurst No. 4, with the afternoon round returning to No. 2.

“It means a lot to get to this point because there’s a lot that comes with it,” said Ogletree, who is attempting to become the third Georgia Tech golfer to claim a U.S. Amateur title, joining Matt Kuchar in 1997, and Bobby Jones, who won five times between 1924 and 1930. “I’m thinking of all the hard work I’ve put in since I was four years old, late nights on the range, my dad driving me all over the place to tournaments.”

What comes with making the U.S. Am finals is exemptions into the 2020 Masters and the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

Battling the challenging Pinehurst No. 2, home of three U.S. Opens, was only part of Ogletree’s struggles Saturday. He also had to battle the gallery, which overwhelmingly was pulling for the underdog Trolio, the youngest player to reach the semis since the early 1990s.

“It was definitely tough,” Ogletree said. “About a tenth of the crowd was pulling for me. I heard some crazy stuff said to me. I shouldn’t repeat some of it. It was hard with that many people pulling against you. You have to be your own cheerleader.”

What was the craziest thing?

“Well, the craziest thing done to me was on a four-footer, and someone’s Masters’ ring-tone (cell phone) went off and I heard some people giggling,” Ogletree said. I backed off and gave them a stare.”

Unlike in professional golf events, patrons can walk down the fairways with the players, so it isn’t easy policing the crowd.

“It’s awesome,” Ogletree said of the fans getting up close and personal. “When they’re cheering for you, it’s great. I didn’t let it get under my skin too much.”

He was too busy fending off the young Trolio, eventually headed to LSU’s golf program. Trolio, who had not trailed in any of his matches heading into Saturday, got off to a rough start: bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, par, bogey, bogey, but was fortunate that Ogletree couldn’t build any more than a 2 up lead until the final three holes.

“I got off to a weird start,” the teenager bemoaned. “I couldn’t get it rolling. I was in every bunker that’s on Pinehurst No. 2. I made a couple of putts and thought I might get something going, but [Ogletree] fired back and I couldn’t get anything going.”

Ogletree held the lead the entire way and went into the 16th hole, 1 up, and really put the pressure on Trolio by hitting the 526-yard, par-4 hole in regulation. Meanwhile, Trolio was in the greenside bunker in two, blasted his shot to the infamous shaved Pinehurst green and watched as it rolled back off the green.

Trolio went on to a double-bogey and conceded the hole to Ogletree, who was 2 up heading into the par-3, 17th.

“That’s a pretty hard hole, so I was thinking if I make a shot, it’s probably over,” Ogletree said. “I just wanted to stuff it. As soon as it left the club, it felt good and I knew it was over.”

Ogletree played the hole at 212 yards into the wind and knew it was between a 5- or 6-iron for him.

“I was juiced, so I hit the 6 hard, flushed it,” he said.

His tee shot came to rest three feet from the pin, while Trolio found yet another Pinehurst No. 2 bunker, blasted out well past the hole and conceded the match.

Ogletree will now face Augenstein, whom he’s known for years, grew up playing the same tournaments, but never battled him in an event. He somehow knew this would happen.

“I looked at the brackets after the round of 16 and said I think we’ll be playing John,” Ogletree said. “I know he’s a competitor. They say he’s a bulldog.”

But Ogletree also found a source of motivation on Twitter when someone commented that “Augenstein is the only one with credentials here.”

“So that got my attention,” Ogletree said.

Augenstein said he’s been in this event enough to know that nothing can be assumed in match play.

“People get beat in match play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much better you are than someone i match play or worse than someone else. Yeah, [Ogletree’s prediction] is a very nice compliment. He’s a great player and rightfully should be here.”

Ogletree was an All-ACC golfer and second-team All-American. He’s ranked No. 120 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Still, the experienced observers give Augenstein the nod headed into Sunday’s championship.

Asked if he felt he was the underdog, Ogletree said, “I don’t feel that way.”

Augenstein who said he slept like a baby before the semifinals match, said he doesn’t believe he’ll have to summon anything extraordinary to be ready for the 36-hole final.

“I don’t think I’ll need any extra motivation,” Augenstein said. “I have a chance to win the biggest amateur tournament in the world. 312 other guys who teed it up earlier this week, won’t. I’m excited to get out there.”

Ogletree, who was so excited the night before the semis that he woke up at 3:15 a.m., thinking about getting a spot in the Masters and the U.S. Open, that his caddie had to tell him to get some sleep, will no doubt think back to those nights under the street light in his family’s yard in Little Rock, Mississippi, and wonder just how he got here.

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