The 2019 U.S. Amateur gets underway next week. The 2018 U.S. Amateur was won by Viktor Hovland of Norway and who attended Oklahoma State University. Certainly not a name that’s on the tip of your tongue. But there are many past champions of the U.S. Amateur who are very much a part of our daily conversations, especially golf fans. Guys like the “King” – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. To make it to the finals of the U.S. Amateur is a huge accomplishment. Not only do you need to make it through your local qualifier, then you have to make it through stroke-play. Today, 312 golfers qualify for the stroke-play portion of the tournament. From there, the top 64 players advance to match play. If, by the way, there’s a tie for 64th, they’re settled in a sudden-death playoff. Those final 64 players are matched up in a bracket very much like college basketball. No. 1 plays No. 64, No. 2 plays No. 63, No. 3 plays No. 62 and so on. It’s a grueling tournament as the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur requires the winner of each match to play 36-holes a day until just two golfers are left standing; and then they face-off in 36-hole match-play final on Sunday. Today, the champion is awarded the Havemeyer Trophy. Ray Billows was one of the top golfers of his era at a time when amateur golf was bigger than professional golf. Billows thrived in the U.S. Amateur winning 74% of all the matches he played. In fact, he advanced to the final match three times, but he was never able to win. Each time Billows played in the finals, he lost. Not only did he lose, but Ray Billows is the only golfer in history to lose the U.S. Amateur three times, certainly one of the most disappointing facts about his career. Certainly, the fact that the U.S. Amateur wasn’t played for four years during the prime of his career because of World War II contributed to his disappointment. But to make it to the finals three times is a huge accomplishment. The fact that Billows played on two Walker Cup teams, won the New York State Amateur seven times and numerous other tournaments over the course of his career prove just how good Ray Billows was. The USGA recognized Ray’s brilliance on the course by honoring him with an exhibit at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, NJ. Tom Buggy, who had the pleasure of playing golf with Ray, wrote a book about Billows (long after he had passed) called, “Ray Billows, The Cinderella Kid,” and he’s on Sports’ Forgotten Heroes to talk about Ray’s career, the ups and downs he experienced and why he decided to play amateur golf instead of professional golf.
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