New Zealander Kazuma Kobori clipped South Africa’s Christiaan Maas, 1 up, to win the Western Amateur in dramatic fashion on Saturday at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois.
The 21-year-old became just the second Kiwi to capture the Western, and he earned another important title along the way. Kobori, who played in all seven Elite Amateur Golf Series events this summer, finished first on the points list. With the season cup, he earned exemptions into the PGA Tour’s Bermuda Championship in November and two Korn Ferry Tour events next season.
“I hadn’t won a tournament in the U.S. and actually missed almost every cut in the Elite Amateur Series last year,” Kobori said. “I made every cut this year, and to finish it off with a win is just incredible.”
Kobori, the No. 49 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking coming into the week, had mostly achieved that ranking based on play in his home country. But after a consistent summer full of strong finishes in top American amateur events, Kobori saved his best for last and officially put his name on the map in amateur golf circles.
It started on Thursday when Kobari, well off the top-16 cut line to see who advances to match play, shot a 6-under 65 in his fourth stroke-play round to make the bracket. He came in at a 9-under 275 total, one stroke better than the 7-for-4 playoff for the final spots in match play.
The championship match represented the first time in Western Amateur history that two players from the Southern Hemisphere met in the finals. Despite the fatigue from amateur golf’s most grueling week, the finalists did not disappoint.
Kobori wasn’t finished battling. On Friday morning, he survived a tightly contested 20-hole match with Mac McClear, an Iowa Hawkeye and current Illinois Amateur champ playing in his home state. That afternoon, Kobori was 1 down with five holes to play against Auburn’s Carson Bacha – but Kobori won the 14th, 15th and 18th holes to escape, 2 up.
After a 6-and-5 clobbering of last year’s U.S. Mid-Am champ Matthew McClean in the semifinals, Kobori got all the rest he could and then faced Maas, the Texas Longhorn who has risen to No. 21 in the WAGR.
Their championship match represented the first time in Western Amateur history that two players from the Southern Hemisphere met in the finals. Despite the fatigue from amateur golf’s most grueling week, they did not disappoint.
The match got off to a rousing start when Maas went left of the second green and had to punch out from a hedge into a greenside bunker. He holed his fourth shot for an unlikely birdie, but then Kobori made a curling 25-foot putt on top of him to remain tied.
Kobori won Nos. 3 and 4 before Maas staged a comeback to go 1 up through 10 holes. Kobori brought the match back to even with a birdie on an up-and-down from a deep greenside bunker on No. 12.
Everything remained tied until the 17th hole when Maas hit his tee shot behind a tree and could not save par. Kobori capitalized on the error and wouldn’t allow Maas to have a chance at the closing hole.
Facing a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would cement the title, Kobori found the bottom of the cup to win amateur golf’s third-oldest championship, which dates to 1899, behind only the British Amateur (1885) and U.S. Amateur (1895).
“I just gave it a shot, and then it started to dribble toward the hole,” Kobori said. “It stayed online, and with a foot to go I knew it was going in. To win a tournament that I only thought I could be a small part of is an incredible feeling.”
Kobori joins Danny Lee (2008) as the only New Zealander to win the Western. Three weeks later, Lee won the U.S. Amateur.
Lauren Kim of Surrey, British Columbia, shot 8-under 280 to win the 109th Canadian Women’s Amateur on Friday at Ashburn Golf Club in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Kim was holding steady in second place during the first three rounds of the tournament, and she trailed Brooke Rivers of Brampton, Ontario, by two strokes going into the final round.
But it was all Kim on the last day, especially early, as she went out in 33 compared to Rivers’ 38. Rivers made birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 to cut the deficit to one stroke, but both players double bogeyed the par-3 16th and then made two closing pars. That allowed Kim to hold on for a one-stroke victory
“I just needed to take down one stroke at a time,” Kim said. “It's hard to stay focused sometimes with the wind out there, but I’m glad I came in strong for the last hole. It’s crazy, because I haven’t won in a few years and to do it on homeland, and one of the biggest championships in Canada, it’s unreal.”
Kim earned exemptions into this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, California, and the CPKC Women’s Open at Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club in Vancouver, British Columbia, on August 24-27.
Kim also earned a $1,200 CAD (about $897 U.S.) winner’s check from the $8,000 CAD (about $5,978 U.S.) purse. Along with Kim, the top-10 finishers and ties earned prize money.