CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, COLO. (AP) - Michael Weaver opened a big lead and hung on to beat Justin Thomas 3-and-2 Saturday to advance to the final of the U.S. Amateur championship at the Cherry Hills Country Club.
Weaver will face Steven Fox of Hendersonville, Tenn., in Sunday’s 36-hole match-play championship. Fox won his semifinal 2-up over Brandon Hagy, who is Weaver’s teammate at the University of California at Berkeley.
The 21-year-old Weaver, of Fresno, Calif., opened his semifinal match with Thomas with three consecutive birdies to go 2 up. He stretched his lead to 5 up after the 10th hole and withstood a rally by Thomas, an Alabama freshman who won three of four holes to get within two of Weaver.
“The start was incredible, awesome,” Weaver said. “I just kept hitting good shots and kept giving myself chances. That really helped me out a lot because I needed it. Justin came around a little bit and I slipped a little bit. But to start like that in the biggest match I’ve ever played in, that was an awesome feeling.”
He thrust his arms in the air in celebration and got a hug from his father, Bill Weaver, who has caddied for his son throughout the weeklong tournament. Both wiped away tears of joy.
“I’m so proud of him,” Bill Weaver said. “He’s a very strong individual, no give-up in him. He just gutted it out.”
Michael Weaver got choked up again later, recalling his clinching putt to get to the championship round and sharing it with his father.
“That was pretty special,” he said. “I’ll remember that forever. I’m so excited. My dad caddies for me all the time. I’m so excited he could be here to be part of this. I owe him a lot. He’s supported me all along, everything I needed and I wouldn’t be here without him.”
“I didn’t battle through it well enough,” Thomas said. “Although it hurts a lot to lose, especially this late in the tournament, it’s a lot better to get beat than to lose.”
The championship on Sunday brings together two longshots from an original field of 312 golfers from 43 states and 20 countries that began the stroke play qualifying on Monday. Both Fox and Weaver emerged from a playoff at the end of two days of qualifying to win their respective spots in the 64-player match-play field. Fox was the No. 63 seed and Weaver the No. 60 seed.
Along the way, Weaver had to get past Thomas, the Jack Nicklaus award winner as the nation’s top college golfer. Fox advanced to the semifinals by defeating Chris Williams, the University of Washington star who was the top-ranked amateur.
“Whether you’re No. 1 or 64, you always have a chance,” Fox said. “And it’s awesome how we survived a playoff and got this far. It’s really unreal.”