John Sawin didn’t know his 25-foot putt for bogey on the 18th green Wednesday at Oakmont Country Club would all but assure a victory at the Pennsylvania Golf Association’s Amateur Championship.
It didn’t matter because Sawin, 29, tapped the ball over the green’s tier and into the cup on its last rotation. The bogey gave him a 1-over 214 for the three-round tournament. After sinking the putt, Sawin beelined for the scoreboard and realized he had likely just won the event.
His closest competitor, Arnie Cutrell, followed in the day’s final grouping and double-bogeyed No. 18, giving Sawin a three-shot victory. Cutrell, of Greensburg, was the leader entering the final round, but his 6-over 77 put him in a tie with Kyle Sterbinsky for second at 4-over 217 for the tournament.
“My only goal all day was to take each shot as it came and hit it to the best of my ability,” said Sawin, who lives in San Francisco but grew up in Philadelphia. “I had a feeling that I was going to be near the lead, that I was playing good golf, but I didn’t know where I stood.”
Sawin grew up playing at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia. Despite his current California address, Sawin is still a member at Merion, which enabled him to enter the Pennsylvania Amateur. In 2013, he won the Stocker Cup, a prestigious amateur tournament in California. That win qualified Sawin for big amateur events across the country.
Seeing an opportunity, Sawin took a leave from his job as an investment banker for Barclays in San Francisco and has spent the summer playing golf tournaments. His victory Wednesday gave this former Princeton golfer his first tournament win in some 20 events he has played this summer.
“I was looking forward to playing three or four days at Oakmont and playing well,” Sawin said. “It was a thrill and a total bonus [to win it].”
Sawin’s 1-under 70 was the best score of the round. He started the day four shots back of Cutrell and birdied Nos. 2 and 5 to put himself in the discussion. After a bogey on No. 8, he birdied No. 9, then played even until a bogey on No. 16.
Meanwhile, Cutrell was struggling behind him. After bogeying the first hole, Cutrell’s only birdie came on No. 3. Then he bogeyed four more times, plus the double bogey on No. 18.
Before Sawin’s lengthy putt to clinch, he opened the par-4 18th with a drive wide left into the 15th faiwary. Competitors had been playing the 18th through the 15th all day because, though it was a longer route, it avoided the bunkers on No. 18.
But Sawin blasted a drive through the fairway on No. 15 and into a bunker on No. 14. He pitched his next shot onto the No. 14 fairway, then hit a shot into a green-side bunker, which he pitched out of to set up the 25-foot bogey putt. Sawin admitted he was simply hoping to two-putt.
“I was just happy to be done,” Sawin said. “This golf course, there’s trouble around every corner. I was just trying to run out of holes.”
Cutrell was impressed with Sawin’s day.
“One-under on that course, with the conditions — it firmed up, tough pins, the way Oakmont should be — that’s a great round,” Cutrell added. “There weren’t very many great scores.”
Sean Hammond: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1466 and Twitter @sean_hammond.