WAIKOLOA — As the wind picked up in the early afternoon Saturday, the Oklahoma State golf team remained calm.
Limiting their mistakes, the Cowboys blew away a talented field at the 28th annual Amer Ari at Waikoloa Kings’ Course, adding to the team’s growing legacy on the Big Island.
Winning by 10 strokes, Oklahoma State picked up its eighth Amer Ari title, while also becoming the first back-to-back winner at Waikoloa since UNLV accomplished the feat in 1998-99. The Cowboys are the only program to win two years in a row twice on the Big Island, having also accomplsihed the feat from 1996-97.
Oklahoma State shot a team score of 817 (47-under-par), separating itself from an 18-team field that included five top 20 teams and four 2018 conference champions.
Auburn (-37) finished a distant second and Texas (-35) rounded out the top three.
Oklahoma State, which won the 2018 national title, has been competing in the Amer Ari since its inaugural tourney in 1992.
“Good gosh, it is a great chance to come to Hawaii, and at this time of year in Oklahoma you never know what the weather is going to be like,” said Cowboys head coach Alan Bratton, who was the low medalist at the Amer Ari in 1993. “We have made some friends over here and we like to come early and play a lot of the golf courses. It is a great way to start out the spring.”
Following in his coach’s footsteps, sophomore Matthew Wolff led his team to the title by clinching the low medalist with his second straight bogey-free round. Over three rounds, Wolff shot 69, 64 and 65 to go 18-under for the tournament, winning by three strokes.
Wolff is coming off his first PGA Tour event. He competed at the Waste Management Open last week in Phoenix, Arizona as an amateur. Wolff is the fourth ranked amateur in the world according to USGA and he is the top collegiate player as ranked by Golfstat.com.
“I was pretty wiped out after playing last week in the Waste Management Open and then I flew straight here,” Wolff said. “But I was feeling good about my game and I was finally able to get my putter working.
“I was able to relax a couple of days when I got here, which was crucial. I executed when I needed to and did not make any stupid mistakes,” Wolff added. “The team win is the most important thing, but to win the individual is pretty special too.”
Wolff became a bit of an internet sensation during his PGA Tour stop thanks to an unconventional swing. However, it does not seem to affect his play. Wolff was named the top collegiate freshman golfer last season and was able to make the cut in Phoenix as the only amateur in the field.
“Matthew is a very good ball striker. His drives are strong and they are straight,” Bratton said. “He has really good iron play and tops it off with good putting. He is just really good.”
Wolff entered the final round of the Amer Ari in fourth place with teammates Zach Bauchou (senior) and Viktor Hovland (junior).
Starting on the second hole, Wolff rolled off three straight birdies. He also birdied holes 6 and 8 to quickly move up the leaderboard. Tied for first heading into the back-9, the wind started to pick up and scores started to rise. However, Wolff never panicked.
“I made a nice up and down on 12 and took advantage of the par 5s on the back-9 with my length,” Wolff said. “The wind makes everything harder, so I knew no one was going out there and sticking it. I stuck to my game plan, aimed for the big parts of the green and stayed out of trouble.”
Bauchou, who led after the opening round of the tournament, bounced back up the leaderboard on Day 3 to claim a tie for second place with Oregon freshman Edwin Yi. Both finished at 15-under.
“I feel pretty good about how I played. Matt played awesome and Viktor played well — it was a good week,” Bauchou said. “Hawaii is a special place. The school has been coming here since coach Bratton played and it is cool to be apart of that legacy. It is a great field, and it shows where everyone’s game is at.”
Hovland also finished in the top 10 for the Cowboys. At 11-under, he placed eighth overall.
University of Southern California senior Justin Suh, the No. 1 ranked USGA world amateur and 2018 Amer Ari champion, finished tied for fourth overall at 13-under.
Suh had a slow start to the third round, bogeying the second hole — a hole that he eagled the day before.
“Overall the conditions got tougher throughout the day and we were grinding,” Suh said. “These Bermuda greens are not something we are used to in L.A. I hit the ball well all tournament, I just needed more putts to drop.”
Day 2 leader, Texas freshman Cole Hammer, was also at 13-under.
Big day for Vul’s Kinoshita
University of Hawaii-Hilo senior Jared Kinoshita moved up eight spots to claim 12th overall in the Amer Ari. Kinoshita finished at 7-under for the tourney after going 2-under for the day.
Starting on hole No. 12, Kinoshita had an up-and-down start to the day, bogeying 13 and 16, while making birdie on 14, 15 and 18 before settling down on his back-9.
As a team, the Vulcans started Day 3 at even par but lost 17 strokes, finishing 17th overall.
The University of Hawaii-Manoa placed 18th at 27-over. The Rainbow Warriors were led by sophomore Cameron Kaneko, who moved up 32 places after going 4-under in the final round. He finished tied for 58th at 2-over for the tourney.
The par-4 16th, at 442 yards, remained the hardest hole for the second straight day and was the toughest hole for the tournament with a scoring average of 4.33. The hole was at its toughest in the final round, yielding a 4.52 average, which included 36 bogeys and 11 double-bogeys.
Holes 4 and 18 tied for the easiest of the tournament. At 513 yards and 501 yards respectively, the two par 5’s had a scoring average of 4.53, yielding a combined 32 eagles and 314 birdies. All four par 5s ranked the four easiest holes of the tournament, which included the 601-yard No. 14 (4.89) and 562-yard No. 2 (4.68).