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U.S. Amateur Champioship

This was the most bizarre and thrilling near-end to a match in U.S. Amateur history

August 17, 2023
John Marshall Butler

John Marshall Butler reacts to making his putt on the 18th hole in the dark.

Kathryn Riley

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. — The beauty of the scene at Cherry Hills Country Club on Thursday evening, as the last four holes in the last match of the U.S. Amateur’s Round of 16 played out, was that no one wrote the script. They wouldn’t have dared to. It was too unbelievable.

A horrible break on a shot that hit the top of flagstick. A holed-out approach. Then, in something out of the scene from “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” the last hole was played in near-darkness, with the 18th green illuminated by floodlights raised by the USGA.

And there wasn’t an end with closing credits, because Auburn rising senior John Marshall Butler overcame hitting his tee shot into the water on the 18th by striping his third-shot approach to three feet to save par and force extra holes in the match that was set to resume at 8 a.m. local time on Friday.

This was already the most watchable match of the afternoon, with Paul Chang, an unranked club golfer from the University of Virginia and the most improbable story in recent USGA history, and battled back and forth with Butler, with Chang losing three different leads.

But that was only the appetizer to the crazy last four holes. At the par-3 15th, with the match tied, Chang’s tee shot tracked the pin too well and the ball hit the top of the flagstick and kicked back to off the front of the green. But Chang made an impressive up-and-down for par to tie the hole.

Then on the par-4 16th, the golf gods rewarded Chang when his approach took a hop and jumped into the hole for an eagle that gave him a 1-up lead.

But it was back to tied when Butler responded with an approach on the par-5 17th to less than a foot a couple of feet for birdie.

That brought the match to the 18th in quickly fading light. Sunset in the Denver area was 7:54 p.m., and that’s about the time they teed off. Butler appeared to hit an excellent tee shot, but his ball rolled out into the water. It seemed as bad a break as Chang’s at 16.

It looked over, with Chang simply needing to make par from the fairway. But Butler produced a stunning shot, his ball landing on the green and rolling to three feet below the hole. Chang ended up making a nervy two-putt, and when Butler holed out his putt at 8:12 p.m., he let out a whoop and yelled “C’mon!”

Said Butler in the aftermath, “I've worked so hard for this moment, and you can't really do anything except go out there and just try to play golf. I've put in the work. I've busted my butt, honestly, so just trying to stay out of my own way, not be too hard on myself. Get a bad break like the one on 18 or 16 where he holed out, just unbelievable stuff.”

“We both didn’t play our best, but down the stretch we both turned it on, as you can see,” Chang said. “His birdie on 17 and that par on 18, those were incredible, just incredible.”