SAN FRANCISCO--Just in case there were any doubts, Colt Knost can win from behind too.
After losing the opening hole for the first time in five matches to semifinal opponent Jhonattan Vegas, followed by dropping the second hole as well, the 22-year-old Dallas native and 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team member steadied the ship en route to a 4-and-3 victory at Olympic Club's Lake course and a spot in the 36-hole final at the 107th U.S. Amateur Championship.
Having won the U.S. Amateur Public Links title in July, Knost already had secured an invitation to next April's Masters. With his victory today, he also earns a spot in next June's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Still, the lure of professional golf might be too tempting for him, having originally planned on turning pro after playing in next month's Walker Cup.
"Still need to be an amateur [to get the exemption]?" Knost asked. "I don't think I'll be at the U.S. Open unless I qualify then. Honestly, I'm going to have to think about it. But I don't think I can put off turning pro any longer than April.
"I mean I need a job," Knost continued, hinting that he's playing well enough where he might be able to get through Q school this fall and earn a PGA Tour card. "I'm done with school. I love golf more than anything. I mean this is what I want to do. This is all I want to do."
While trailing early to Vegas, Knost had memories of comeback victories in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the APL that help create confidence that he was still alive, even as he let short putts to win the sixth and seventh holes slide by to remain him 1 down.
Fortunately for Knost, Vegas too missed opportunities to extend the lead by missing short putts on the par-3 eighth (after hitting a tree with his tee shot and getting a friendly bounce on to the green) and par-4 ninth hole. "If one of those two putts would have gone in, I would have the momentum on my side going to the back nine, which would be a lot better," said the 23-year-old native of Venezuela, who finished his college career at Texas last spring. "But I just didn't execute the way that I needed to."
Come the 10th hole, Knost piped a drive into the fairway and indeed took the momentum, winning with a par to square the match after Vegas' approach shot found a nasty lie in the right rough around the green and he couldn't get his third shot on the green.
After the two competitors halved the 11th hole with pars, Knost proceeded to win four straight holes from No. 12 to 15, birdieing the final two. Showing how his luck had turned, on the par-3 13th Vegas again hit a tree off the tee, this time his ball bounding into a greenside bunker.
"I didn't feel like he would go all day without missing a fairway," Knost said. "I knew that he would make a mistake if I would just stay patient and let it happen. And he started to there at the end finally."
Knost's opponent in Sunday's final is Michael Thompson, a senior-to-be at Alabama who defeated Casey Clendenon, 3 and 2, in their Saturday semifinal. The 22-year-old from Tucson had trailed just six holes all week and kept that streak alive by winning three of the first five holes.
By the turn, Thompson would be the only semifinalist under par (34) and continued to have a 2-up lead that he extended to 4 up with pars on the 13th and 14th holes.
"I knew if I got up ahead early, I could maintain that," Thompson said. "Because it doesn't take pars and birdies out here. Sometimes it takes bogeys to half holes."
Thompson again drove the par-4 286 yard seventh hole, only this time his ball bounded over the green rather than settling 14 inches from the cut like in Friday's quarterfinal match with Derek Fathauer. His chip rolled off the green and he would make bogey, one of the few blemishes he had all day.
Entering the week, Thompson, who had top-five finishes at the NCAA Championship in June and the Players Amateur in July, thought he was among the short list of contenders for one of the two remaining Walker Cup team spots. By advancing to the final here at Olympic, he's made believers out of others too.
"I knew that if I made it to match play and won a couple of matches that I would get the attention of the USGA and [team captain] Buddy [Marucci], and now that I've made it to the final, I think I made a huge statement."
While Thompson is playing for a chance to represent his country, Knost is playing for history. Only Ryan Moore in 2004 won both the APL and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year and only five individuals have claimed more than one USGA title in a calendar year.
"I have thought about it," Knost said about the double "Y'all tell me all the time that how Ryan Moore is the only guy that’s done it the same year. Like I said, he's a great player. I'd love to be up there with him."
"A lot of people said after the Public Links, 'No one was there. You
were the best player in the field,' and all that," Knost added "And I
said, 'Well, you still got to win it.' And I think this week has really
solidified my win there and showed that I’m a player that belongs here."
Knost and Thompson have played in the same group a few times during amateur events this summer, getting to know each other a bit. "I know I can beat him, and I know he can beat me," Thompson said. "It's really whoever comes out playing the best tomorrow is going to win."
Entering their semifinal match, it appeared as if Vegas would have an advantage over Knost in distance off the tee. It showed even on the first hole, when Vegas outdrove Knost by 50 yards. "Hey Vegas, as you sure I'm away," Knost joked as the two were getting ready to hit their second shots.