Dawson Armstrong, Aaron Wise reach Western Amateur final

Robby Shelton first made it on the map as an unknown who took down a giant in Jordan Spieth at the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur.

And now it has come full circle.

Shelton, the freshman prodigy and master of match play at the 2014 NCAA Championship, was ousted from the Western Amateur at Rich Harvest Farms on Saturday morning, falling in the semifinals to little-noticed Dawson Armstrong, 2 and 1.

In the other semifinal match, Aaron Wise continued his streak of hot starts in match play, posting five birdies in his first eight holes to race out to a 5-up lead over Jake Knapp. The Oregon sophomore eventually closed out the match, 4 and 2, and will be the other member in the finals.

For the sheer contrast and shock value, Shelton-Armstrong was the match to watch. Even before the contest, the Alabama junior appeared to have the psychological edge.

When asked whether he had known anything about Armstrong before their one-on-one, he responded in the negative.

“I didn’t know much at all about him,” Shelton said. “I actually had never heard of him.”

Armstrong meanwhile wasn’t so sanguine about facing down Shelton.

“Knowing I had to play him, it made me lose some sleep last night,” Armstrong said. “He’s just incredible in match play.”

The script went as planned early on, with Shelton striping it from tee-to-green and leaving himself an 8-footer for birdie on No. 3 to quickly go 2 up.

Then, the first deviation.

Shockingly, Shelton watched his putt slide by, and Armstrong poured in his own 6-foot par putt to keep himself 1 down through three holes.

For the next several holes, things fell apart for Shelton. It started with a poor approach shot on No. 4, with following bad strikes on Nos. 5 and 7 that left him in impossible positions around the greens. His putter went cold, as well, with a 5-foot miss for bogey on five and a 3-foot lip out for par on seven costing him two holes.

“That bad stretch I had, there’s just nothing you can say about it,” Shelton said. “”It’s just golf, it happens sometimes.”

Armstrong capitalized in that stretch, moving from 1-down to 2-up. Shelton fought back to all square after winning holes 10 and 11.

Then the greatest fireworks of the day commenced. Armstrong rolled in an 8-footer for birdie on 12 to regain a 1-up lead, and then his piece de resistance: a chip-in for birdie right of the 13th green.

“I told my dad when I walked up to my ball that I had a good feeling about that chip,”Armstrong said. “I looked up at the green, I was looking around and I was like, this is going to go in.”

His premonition proved correct and he went 2 up. With Shelton 10 feet for birdie on 14, Armstrong drained a 20-footer to put the pressure back on the Alabama star. Shelton missed and Armstrong was 3-up.

He had outdone the master of hole outs and timely birdie binges.

“I think that three-hole stretch is the clutchest golf I’ve ever played,” Armstrong said.

Shelton had one last gasp with a big birdie on 15 to cut the lead to 2 down, but his self-proclaimed “C game” was not enough and pars for Armstrong on 16 and 17 sealed the deal.

In the other match, there was never much of a question.

Ever since his opening-round 76 Tuesday, Wise has scorched Rich Harvest Farms, especially in the opening holes, and nothing was new Saturday morning. That starting stretch just fits Wise’s eye.

“There’s a couple of birdie opportunities, but even the tough holes I’m able to get it on the green and drop some putts,” Wise said.

Knapp really never had a chance Saturday with the way Wise was rolling the flatstick. The Oregon sophomore holed a 30-footer and 40-footer in his first four holes and added another long make on 15 to essentially close out the match.

“I’ve been putting well all week, but this round was a little special,” Wise said.

Collin Morikawa remains on Wise’s bag and will be there for the final, but maybe not the entirety. Morikawa will be available for the first three hours of the match and then has to leave. Wise will likely carry his own bag from there if necessary.

The Lipscomb sophomore is a unique character who came in unheralded but underrated.

After slaying giants Jordan Niebrugge in the quarterfinals and Shelton in the semis, the recognition should start coming. And Armstrong has high hopes for his burgeoning small college program.

“People are quickly going to find out what Lipscomb is,” Armstrong said. “If they don’t find out today, they will in the future. It’s going to shock people what we do.”

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