Mississippi’s first golf course – the Great Southern Golf Club in Gulfport – was built in 1908 so it stands to reason that Mississippians have played the sport for at least 111 years.
Sunday, 21-year-old Andy Ogletree, a grocer’s son from the tiny community of Little Rock in Newton County, became the first Mississippian to win the United States Amateur Championship. Ogletree, a rising Georgia Tech senior, defeated John Augenstein of Owensboro, Kentucky, 2 and 1 in the 36-hole finale at Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Ogletree’s life-changing victory was a study in perseverance. He lost four of the first five holes and trailed by four early in the morning round. It looked as if Augenstein, who plays at Vanderbilt, might run away with the championship. But Ogletree didn’t flinch.
“I showed a lot of resilience out there and never gave up,” said the bespectacled Ogletree. “I kept telling myself I’m going to win this championship, and just believed that.”
Mississippi has produced many terrific amateur golfers over those 111 years. Johnny Pott was a great collegiate player at LSU before winning five times on the PGA Tour and playing in three Ryder Cups. Mike Taylor, who once played ahead of Johnny Miller at BYU, won the Mississippi State Amateur a record 10 times. Randy Watkins won a national junior championship and later played the PGA Tour. Braden Thornberry won the NCAA championship for Ole Miss. And there are more. But no Mississippian had ever reached the semifinals of our national amateur championship until both Ogletree and 17-year-old Cohen Trolio of West Point did that last weekend. Ogletree defeated Trolio on the 17th hole of their semifinal match.
Ogletree was considered a decided underdog going into the 36-hole finale. Augenstein was ranked No. 38 in the World Amateur rankings, compared to Ogletree at No. 120. What those rankings do not take into consideration is how much Ogletree has improved his game over the last two years at Georgia Tech. Through working out diligently and eating more healthy, he said he has put on 33 pounds of muscle. He has also worked especially hard on his short game – chipping and putting – and it showed Sunday when he kept battling and then finally took the lead on the 32nd hole.
Get this: Augenstein led for 29 holes, Ogletree for only three.
Asked what he learned about himself Sunday, Ogletree responded: “I can play at the highest level and perform. I felt like the more nervous I got, the better I hit it. You just kind of have to learn on the fly, and it just went my way today, and I learned I can handle the pressure, I can handle the heat, and I can still perform.”
For winning, Ogletree receives a gold medal and custody of the Havemeyer Trophy for one years. His name is placed on a plaque at the Hall of Champions at the USGA Golf Museum in Liberty Corner, New Jersey. He receives an exemption to the 2020 U.S. Open at famed Winged Foot Golf Club, a likely invitation to The Masters and an exemption into the 149th (British) Open Championship, provided he remains an amateur. In addition, both Ogletree and Augenstein were named to the 2019 Walker Cup team on Sunday afternoon. The 47th Walker Cup (the amateur equivalent to professional golf’s Ryder Cup, will be played Sept. 7-8 at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.
If Masters tradition holds, Ogletree will tee off with current Masters champion Tiger Woods in the first round at Augusta National next April.
On social media Sunday and Monday, many were claiming Ogletree as their own: the community of Little Rock, the town of Union where his dad owns a Piggly Wiggly where Ogletree worked when he was younger, the Union High School Yellowjackets, Northwood Country Club in Meridian where he played junior golf, and, of course, Georgia Tech.
Asked during the post-tournament news conference what the reaction would be back home from his friends and neighbors in Little Rock, Ogletree responded: “There’s no telling. I am sure there are some adult beverages going down.”