During the final round of the VSGA Amateur Championship on Friday, the putts weren’t falling for Midlothian’s Jordan Utley.
He said he started with a few good putts early on, but they didn’t fall, and as the day progressed, the “bad putts” began to accumulate.
“That was the difference,” he said after the loss, which was his third in the championship round.
By the fourth hole of the afternoon round, and the 22nd overall, Utley leaned back and looked at the cloudy skies in disbelief after a missed putt increased 20-year-old Jimmy Taylor’s lead to 6-up. By the ninth hole of the same round, he took his first stroke and exclaimed “Go in, so I don’t have to putt” as he watched a shot sail through the air. Then he missed the ensuing putt. And by the 29th overall hole, he watched a putt trickle wide to the left as one of his three small kids shouted that it was “close.”
“It just breathes negativity,” Utley said of his misses. “I wish I could say I was super strong mentally, I wish I could say it didn’t affect me but just when it continues to snowball like that… it just really weighs heavily on you.”
For the third time, Utley lost in the championship round of the VSGA Amateur tournament. Taylor was 4-up by the lunch break at The Country Club of Petersburg and continued to build on that lead, going 8-up at one point before finishing Utley for a 7-and-6 victory.
On the flip side, Taylor’s putting was extremely precise. On multiple occasions, his initial strokes with the driver led him astray into the rough. But Taylor recovered behind a “really, really good day putting,” and one that Utley couldn’t match, he said.
“He’s a tough competitor,” said Tim Pemberton, who coaches Taylor at William & Mary. “When his putter gets hot like this, it’s kind of hard to keep up, really.”
In 2014, Utley was trailing by four after 18 holes but began to mount a comeback and forced the match into 36 holes using the momentum he gathered. But Friday after the lunch break, where Utley took a few practice putting strokes after eating, Taylor won the first two holes.
He landed a shot from about 100 yards away less than three feet from the 19th overall hole to stretch his lead to 5-up. Then, after his initial stroke landed in the rough behind a tree, Taylor nailed a mid-range putt to go 6-up. Utley missed his respective putt.
On the 25th overall hole, Utley complimented Taylor’s concentration when he drove his first stroke straight ahead, despite construction noise in the background. Taylor went on to drain an excellent mid-range putt to go 7-up.
“I just needed Jimmy’s putter today, I’ll trade you,” Utley said with a laugh to Taylor as he congratulated his opponent after the final hole.
Taylor’s concentration and focus paid off, as he joked that he wanted to wrap up as soon as possible because he hadn’t finished his previous matches early and he wanted to give his caddy a break.
Taylor missed a chance to win 8-and-7 when he landed in a bunker and then Utley sank the ensuing putt. Utley threw both hands in the air in celebration when the putt dropped, admitting that it felt good because one finally went in, but adding that it didn’t matter because it was too late.
The William & Mary junior called the championship victory the biggest accomplishment of his career and said he didn’t expect it entering the tournament. It’s a huge confidence booster for him, too.
“Going into the week, I wasn’t hitting it great. I just kinda found some [today] with the putter and then my ball striking kind of caught up with me,” Taylor said. “This is awesome, it’s definitely my favorite tournament of the year, and it’s a great one to win.”
Thursday during the quarterfinals and semifinals, Utley putted well and put up low numbers, finishing 5-under and 6-under, respectively. But Friday during the championship, the 35-year-old couldn’t replicate that.
“Today was a tough day. Sometimes you have ‘em, I [just] wish it wouldn’t have been in the finals of the State Am,” Utley said.