Mark O’Meara outdueled a magnificent field to win the 1979 US Amateur Championship at Canterbury Golf Club. For the first time since 1964, the USGA elected to return to the previous format of a 36-hole stroke play qualifier to determine a match play field of the 64 best player’s scores. Coincidentally, the 1964 event was also held at Canterbury.
The field included all four semi-finalist from the 1978 Amateur, 8 members of the USA Walker Cup team, the low amateur at the 1979 Masters and US Open’s and the current NCAA individual champion. Not to mention many future PGA tour stars such as Fred Couples, Scott Hoch, Payne Stewart, John Cook, Hal Sutton, Bob Tway and Bobby Clampett.
Also in the field was a man named William McLaughlan. Many Canterbury members will know him as Wink. Wink was a caddy at Canterbury during the 1979 season and he qualified for the tournament through local and sectional qualifying. He shot 144 in stroke qualifying which put him into the 64 man match play field. Wink won his round of 64 match, but lost to Cecil Ingram in the round of 32. Still, it is a great accomplishment worth noting from one of Canterbury’s own.
Clampett was the stroke play medalist with 134, including a competitive course record tying 66 at Canterbury. He backed that up with a solid 68 at Shaker Heights CC, the other course used for qualifying. The two players that would eventually meet in the finals, John Cook and Mark O’Meara, finished with qualifying scores of 140 and 142 respectively.
O’Meara’s road to the finals was as tough as any. He defeated Hal Sutton in the round of 32 by a score of 1up and David Ogrin in 20 holes during their quarterfinal match. But it appeared O’Meara’s toughest test would be in the finals vs. John Cook.
Cook was the defending champion and widely considered to be the top amateur player in the country. He also was a fan favorite as he was currently a student at Ohio State University. So when Cook won 2 of the first 4 holes over O’Meara in the 36-hole final match, it looked like this would be a one sided affair.
It was. However, it was O’Meara that would be victor. After trailing 2 down after 4, O’Meara won the next 5 holes to claim a comfortable 3 up lead after 9 holes. Cook was unable to mount any serious comeback and trailed 4 down after the morning 18. O’Meara had played the first 18 holes in rainy conditions at 1 under par. He then started out the afternoon 18 with 4 straight pars to match Cook before reeling 3 straight birdies to turn this final match into a rout. The match ended on the 11th hole when O’Meara made yet another birdie, which proved to be the final stroke in a convincing 8&7 victory.
Mark O’Meara was 4 under par in the 29 holes that were played in the final match. He hit 24 greens in regulation and missed just 3 fairways. It was an awesome display of championship golf by a man who would go on to win 2 professional major championships during his career on the PGA Tour.
During the 1979 US Amateur Canterbury played 6852 yards to a par of 71.