From 500th in world to U.S. Amateur semifinals was tough road for OSU player
Aman Gupta discusses shot with his caddie, Oklahoma State head coach Alan Bratton, during the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes.
BANDON, Ore. — Aman Gupta was having a moment. Or four. “Over there weed whacking,” he would later joke.
In his quarterfinal U.S. Amateur Championship match against Michael Thorbjornsen on Friday, Gupta hooked his drive into the knee-high fescue on the par-4 third hole at Bandon Dunes. Once he found the ball, he examined his lie long and hard, and then took a slash at it. The ball moved inches, maybe.
Another slash. Inches. Another slash. A couple of feet. Finally, Gupta could get just enough iron on the ball to advance it into the fairway. At which point, his caddie and head coach at Oklahoma State, Alan Bratton, said loudly above the howl of the wind, “C’mon, that deserves some applause! He took four to get out!” The handful of spectators watching chuckled and dutifully cheered.
“That’s just coach,” Gupta said. “That goes right along with my personality. Anybody who knows me knows that nothing gets to me. At the end of the day, I laugh things off. … I thought that was hilarious that he said that.”
Gupta went on to lose the hole, but as for the match, the pair of Cowboys hung in there, overcame a 2-down deficit through 10 holes, took their first lead at No. 17, and the 22-year-old Gupta won, 1 up, over Thorbjornsen, 19, the 2018 U.S. Junior Am champ who arguably was the remaining favorite.
At No. 500 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and the third-to-last alternate to get into the field, Gupta reached Saturday’s semifinals in only his second U.S. Amateur start. He’ll take on Georgia Tech fifth-year senior Tyler Strafaci, who earned a 1-up quarterfinal victory over Stewart Hagestad, the 29-year-old who was trying to become the first mid-amateur since 1993 to win the championship.
In the other semifinal, SMU rising sophomore Charles (Ollie) Osborne, 20, will take on Matthew Sharpstene, 21, an upcoming senior at Charlotte. Osborne defeated Arizona State junior Cameron Sisk, 2 and 1, and Sharpstene recorded the most lopsided win of the quarters, defeating former U.S. Junior Am champ Philip Barbaree, 4 and 2. Saturday’s winners will face off in the 36-hole final on Sunday.
Gupta has a two-time U.S. Amateur winner on his bag, albeit with both of Bratton’s titles coming as the caddie. “I have zero Havemeyer Trophies,” said a grinning Bratton, a former U.S. Walker Cup player and one-time tour pro. He looped for two previous U.S. Am winners from Oklahoma State—Peter Uihlein in 2010 and Viktor Hovland in 2018. Bratton started this week caddieing for another Cowboys player, Austin Eckroat, but he didn’t make it to match play.
Gupta, who hails from Concord, N.C., seized the opportunity, asking his coach to take over his bag, and he said after Friday’s win that Bratton has been a “huge” factor in his play. He’ll also admit that he probably would not be in his current position if the coach weren’t as forthright as he was during that predicament on the third hole.
Aman Gupta said he was motivated to get better after a frank discussion with coach Alan Bratton after ther fall portion of the college season.
At the end of the fall portion of the 2019-’20 season—before anyone fathomed that the rest of the year would be wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic—Bratton called Gupta into his office. He told him he was a “frustrating human being,” that, given his considerable skills, he was not working nearly hard enough to realize his full potential.
“He was still good enough that he got to play, but I don’t want him to be satisfied with that,” Bratton said. “That’s not why he came to Oklahoma State.”
Stunned at first by the critique, Gupta had to admit it was true—that he slept in late, didn’t practice enough and didn’t watch his diet.
“Coach told me, ‘You can do that stuff and you’re going to beat some people. You’re still good,’” Gupta recalled. “But my goal is not to be a decent player. I’m trying to be the best player in the world."
Gupta responded by going full bore with practice leading up to June, and he got some promising results with top-15 finishes in the Palmetto Amateur and Southern Amateur.
“I’m very grateful,” Gupta said. “The kick in the pants is what I needed. That’s why I’m standing here right now. I owe a lot to the coaches. I’ve found myself the past two years.”
Gupta’s U.S. Amateur week got off to a roaring start when he shot a Bandon Trails course-record 64, and though he shot 73 on Bandon Dunes the next day, he still earned the No. 5 seed for match play. He’s the top remaining seed, and few would have predicted that at the tournament’s outset.
“He’s very talented,” Bratton said. “Every part of his game is good. I’m excited to see what the confidence does for him. Regardless of what happens the rest of this week, I know he has a better self-belief, and it’s amazing how that catapults you to sustain success. Hopefully, this is a preview of coming attractions.”