Chad Conine is a sportswriter from Texas who spent the summer in Scotland and the town of St. Andrews. He chronicled his golf adventures before this year's British Open, held at the Old Course July 15-18.My friend Jamie Moore casually chatted with his old buddy as they walked down a sun-splashed fairway on Thursday afternoon.
It was a normal feeling encounter, but this was not an ordinary place or an ordinary moment. Moore's buddy was Paul Cutler, who at the time was stalking the fairway in his Round 4 match against Japan's Yuki Usami in the British Amateur at Muirfield. Moore and Cutler, both from Portstewart, Northern Ireland, grew up playing with and against each other in junior competitions. Moore said he recognized from an early age that Cutler had the talent to be a great golfer and that was spot on as Cutler is currently ranked No. 39 in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking — and he's sure to rise after making the quarterfinals of the British Amateur.
Meanwhile, I marveled briefly at my good fortune. When planning my trip to Scotland, I put "Watch some of the British Amateur at Muirfield" on my to-do list. As it turned out, I played The Old Course in early April when I met and joined up with Moore, a St. Andrews University student who had a 12:40 p.m. tee time that day. Since then, Moore has been a consistent golf buddy and friend. As events unfolded, after Moore finished work at noon on Thursday, we hustled from St. Andrews, through Musselburgh and Gullane to Muirfield with a vested interest in watching the British Amateur.
We calculated that we could catch Cutler as he made the turn in his round-of-16 match, which proved correct. Cutler finished on the 9th green and walked over to Moore for a quick hello on the way to the 10th tee. Cutler held a 1-up lead through nine holes, though his easy-going walk from 9 to 10 hardly forecast that the match was drawing close to its key moment.
On the par-4 11th, it appeared as if Usami would make things all square as he had a six-foot putt for par, while Cutler had mis-hit his third shot from behind the green, sending it 80 feet away from the cup just on the fringe on the front of the green. But Cutler came through with the shot of the match by ramming his putt from off the green, sending it cruising through the middle of the putting surface and smacking into the flagstick. It dropped into the hole, leaving Usami deflated.
The Japanese player missed the par putt and went 2-down. Cutler would remain at least 2-up for the remainder of the match. Usami lost another hole on the 13th when his second shot settled in a horrible lie at the back of a bunker behind the green. Usami went down on his left knee outside the bunker with his right foot perched on the edge, then advanced the ball just a few feet in the bunker. He hit a nice shot from there to about 8 feet. However, Cuter drained a 10-foot par putt to take the hole and move to 3-up. After the players traded holes on the 14th and 15th. Cutler earned a half on the 16th to win the match.
Moore and I looked on, perhaps chuckling a little inside, as Cutler gave a post-match interview, employing dead-pan answers that Moore knew to be his friend's standard in such cases. It went something like this:
"What a thrill it must be to be playing on a brilliant afternoon here at Muifield in such a prestigious event as the British Amateur," the television journalist began. "How much would it mean to you and your family for you to win this event and put your name on the trophy and claim an entry into the Open Championship and all of the fantastic things that go along with a victory here."
"Yes, it's a prestigious tournament," Cutler replied. "It would be great to win it."
Moore introduced me to Cutler and I wasted no time, immediately ribbing him about the interview. He could have at least mentioned the shot that felled Usami on the 11th hole.
Cutler was traveling with the Irish team, so he had team matters to attend to. Moore and I headed back for St. Andrews. We stopped in Musselburgh for burgers and ice cream, planning our next couple of days as we hoped to follow Cutler on through the final.
However, Cutler's outstanding week ended on Friday morning when Jin Jeong of South Korea won their quarterfinal match, 3 and 2. Still, Cutler, who won Lytham Trophy in May, made another good showing for himself and gave Moore and I quite a thrill.