By NOAH TRISTER
August 21, 2016 05:53 PM
BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Curtis Luck was walking along the course, doing the math on how he'd turned a close U.S. Amateur final into a rout by winning eight holes in a row.
It was hard for the 20-year-old Australian to process.
"I think I started laughing, walking down the fairway," he said. "I haven't heard of that, and I haven't seen it before. What an amazing thing to do while you're out in the final of the U.S. Amateur Championship."
Luck built a commanding lead with that eight-hole run shortly after the midway point of Sunday's final match, and he went on to beat Brad Dalke 6 and 4 to become the U.S. Amateur's third international champion in four years.
The 36-hole final on the South Course at Oakland Hills was all square after 18, and Dalke won the first hole after the break. Luck answered with an eagle on the 20th to square it again, and that was the start of a decisive streak that eventually left him 7 up with nine holes remaining.
"It's so rare to be able to do that, especially in match play, which is, as you know, one hole at a time — you win one and things can change so quickly," Luck said. "I didn't expect it at all."
Although Dalke finally snapped Luck's streak by winning a couple holes of his own, the University of Oklahoma sophomore couldn't close the gap any more. He conceded after missing a putt for par on the 32nd hole.
"I never really felt comfortable that second round. I don't know if it was the break or what," Dalke said. "Now it seems like it was a blur. It went by pretty quick."
Luck joins Matthew Fitzpatrick of England (2013) and Gunn Yang of South Korea (2014) among recent international winners of this event. He's also only the third Australian-born champion. Nick Flanagan won in 2003 and Walter Travis won it in 1900, 1901 and 1903.
There was no indication that this final match would become so lopsided. Neither player could gain much of an upper hand in the morning, and even after Luck's eagle on the 20th hole, the match was all square. Then Dalke's round began to unravel with bogeys on 21 and 22.
Luck was 3 up after a birdie on 23. The next hole was a short par 4, but Dalke's tee shot went way to the right, settling in some tall grass. His shot from there caromed off a utility box that was a few feet in front of him, and Luck needed only a par to win that hole.
Luck made a birdie on the 25th hole, and Dalke made bogeys on the following two, giving the Australian an almost insurmountable lead.
"He's just solid. He makes a lot of good swings at it, doesn't get really wayward with the driver, great short game," Dalke said. "He's never out of a hole. He could be in a trash can 20 yards from the green and still get up-and-down."
The eight-hole stretch Sunday that decided the championship was equal parts Luck's excellence (an eagle and two birdies) and Dalke's struggles (five bogeys). The final turned into a breeze for Luck, in contrast to his 21-hole semifinal win over Nick Carlson.
Luck got up and down from about 135 yards in a bunker on the second extra hole to keep that match going Saturday.
"I know he's a fighter, and I know those pressure situations are really what switches him on," said Luck's father Stuart, who caddied for him. "If you know him — and I think you only have to look at Twitter comments tonight from all the people back home in Australia — you'll know that he's seriously dangerous in that situation."
Luck was seventh in the world amateur ranking coming into this event, and he said he'd previously been thinking about turning pro after the Asian Amateur in October. Now, he has some extra incentives to preserve his amateur status — exemptions to next year's U.S. Open and British Open and a likely invite to the Masters.
"I'm super happy to say that I'm going to be an amateur for another however long — eight or nine months," Luck said. "Get to play some unbelievable golf tournaments within those months, and I guess get even more experience for when I do turn pro."
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister
By NOAH TRISTER
Updated: August 21, 2016 05:53 PM
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.