There are many painful ways to lose a match at the U.S. Amateur. But few can compare to what transpired Thursday at Bandon Dunes for Segundo Oliva Pinto.
And few matches have featured the sportsmanship that occurred in the aftermath.
Oliva Pinto, a junior at the University of Arkansas, had been enjoying a splendid run in match play at the most prestigious amateur event of the year. He overcame a late deficit to defeat Englishman John Gough in 19 holes, then disposed of recent Southern Amateur victor McClure Meissner, 2 and 1, to reach the round of 16.
The Argentinian faced an even stiffer test in that round against Georgia Tech’s Tyler Strafaci, falling 2 down on two occasions and battling back both times. Coming to the par-5 18th hole tied with a whipping gale in the faces of both competitors, Oliva Pinto hit his third shot into the greenside bunker while Strafaci missed the green in an awkward spot left of the green.
“I felt like I had the upper hand,” Oliva Pinto said. “I was uphill, into the wind and he had a downhill, downwind chip. I felt like I was in a better spot, but I guess we’ll never know.”
Neither player had the opportunity to play his fourth shot, as the match unceremoniously ended in a way nobody desired. Oliva Pinto’s caddie, Brant Brewer, a first-year Bandon Dunes looper randomly assigned to the bag, reached down to inspect the bunker, brushing the sand from side to side. With Oliva Pinto’s ball resting in a part of the bunker that looked to have less sand, it appeared Brewer was intending to gauge the firmness of the surface. Video confirmed Brewer’s actions.
ICYMI: Segundo Oliva Pinto’s spirited run in his first #USAmateur came to a heartbreaking end in a greenside bunker late Thursday afternoon at Bandon Dunes.
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) August 14, 2020
The penalty in match play is loss of the hole, and in this case that meant the match. Both players stood awkwardly at the green, Strafaci doing what even the best of us may not have the heart to do: He asked a USGA official for clarification, nearly hoping there was some way the competition could continue.
“You’re sure it’s loss of hole and not just a stroke?” Strafaci could be heard saying on the Golf Channel telecast.
After the round, he didn’t carry himself with the confidence of someone who just advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur. Regardless of his play in the rest of the event, his description of the situation won him fans in the amateur golf world.
“It’s just a very weird feeling, obviously,” Strafaci said. “I feel bad for Segundo. He wasn’t a part of it, and he played phenomenal. He really fought hard.
“He was 2 down, he brought it back, and that last hole, it could have gone either way because it’s blowing 30 (mph), I was putting (from off the green), he’s got not that hard a bunker shot, so it could have gone either way. I could have three-putted, he could have … . It’s just weird right now.”
When the result went final, the nasty nature of social media emerged. Many suggested that if they were in Oliva Pinto’s shoes, a physical altercation would have been deserved. The outpouring of vitriol was directed squarely at Brewer, the lack of empathy from keyboard warriors only adding to the pain of a human mistake he immediately regretted.
Oliva Pinto easily could have walked off the course disgusted, blaming Brewer for his loss. Even by golf’s sportsmanship standards, it would have been understandable for him to get on the next plane and completely avoid talking about it.
Instead, he has gone to bat for Brewer in every way possible. Oliva Pinto took to Instagram, posting a photo of he and Brewer with the quote, “He is a good guy and a great friend. This can happen to anyone my man!!” and the hashtag “#noonesfault”.
But it went well beyond that. He said he called a despondent Brewer on Thursday night, forgiving him for what happened. And he had no issue responding to multiple media requests, including a brief conversation with Global Golf Post.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but I really had a good time with him,” Oliva Pinto said. “He’s a really passionate guy with a really big heart. He just didn’t know the rules. He’s not used to being on a big stage in competition. He didn’t know he couldn’t do that.
“When I called him afterward, he was heartbroken, he was in tears. He told me he couldn’t be more sorry for what happened and he really wanted us to win and perform because we both thought we could win the whole thing.”
If it was difficult for Oliva Pinto to control his emotions in the moment, he didn’t show it.
“I don’t know if it was hard or not to respond like I did,” he said. “In those situations, you don’t really get time to think. You’re just saying whatever comes out of your heart. I didn’t feel like being mean to him or telling him that he screwed up would make it any better.”
Easing the pain of the aftermath, Oliva Pinto and his Razorback teammate Julián Périco spent Friday playing Sheep Ranch and Pacific Dunes, two of the courses on the Bandon Dunes property that were not used for the tournament. And somewhat lost in the shuffle is the fact that Oliva Pinto continues to develop into a strong player, having won three times thus far in his college career in addition to a top-10 finish at the Latin America Amateur in January.
“I look forward to improving and one day winning this tournament,” Oliva Pinto said. “The U.S. Am is the best trophy out there in golf, so I really want to grab it for a million reasons.”
We all have a million reasons to root for Oliva Pinto and Strafaci after both players handled a brutal situation the best way possible. Perhaps the two will cross paths again to decide who would have won.
“We need a rematch,” Oliva Pinto joked. “We have to see who is the best player.”
In sportsmanship and class, we’ll call it a tie with plenty of birdies on both sides.
Top: Segundo Oliva Pinto after playing his tee shot at the fifth hole during the round of 32 at the 2020 U.S. Amateur. Photo: Steven Gibbons, USGA
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