1998 U.S. Amateur
In many ways Oak Hill came full circle in 1998. Nearly a half century after making its major tournament debut by hosting the 1949 U.S. Amateur, the USGA brought the event back to the venerable East Course – and, for the first time in competition, the West Course - for another rousing week of golf in its purest form.
And just as it had in every championship it had hosted to this point, Oak Hill produced a worthy, big-name champion. This time it was long-hitting Hank Kuehne - who soon thereafter would take his game to the PGA Tour – smashing his way to victory over gritty, then-career amateur Tom McKnight who has since joined the pay-for-play set and become a successful competitor on the Champions Tour.
Following two-plus days of qualifying and three rounds of match play, the tournament really heated up with some delicious quarterfinal matches as Sergio Garcia eliminated defending Amateur champion Matt Kuchar while Kuehne whipped Bryce Molder and McKnight and Bill Lunde also advanced. When Kuehne and McKnight survived their semifinal tests, it set up a 36-hole final between two good friends who were about 20 years apart in age.
Kuehne opened a 3-up lead after the first 18, and after McKnight rallied to go 1-up through six holes in the afternoon, Kuehne made his move by winning four of the next five holes and ultimately won 2-and-1.
Oak Hill’s hosting of the Amateur turned the event into one of the biggest successes in the tournament’s history. As usual, Rochester’s knowledgeable golf fans flocked to the course and produced galleries rarely seen at the Amateur and none was larger than the turnout for the Friday quarterfinals when the featured match pitted reigning U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar against reigning British Amateur champ, and future PGA Tour star, Sergio Garcia. The two players trudged around the East Course with about 10,000 fans in tow, and they provided a scintillating display of shot-making before Garcia prevailed 2-and-1.
Every U.S. Amateur features a number of players who go on to compete as professionals, many on the PGA Tour. At Oak Hill in 1998, the list included eventual champion Hank Kuehne, Sergio Garcia, Aaron Baddeley, Adam Scott, Charles Howell III, Bryce Molder, Matt Kuchar, J.J. Henry, Ben Curtis, Hunter Haas, David Eger and Tom McKnight.
The day before the 36-hole stroke-play qualifier began, good friends Hank Kuehne and Tom McKnight played a late-afternoon practice round together, during which McKnight quipped "Wouldn't it be great if we can meet each other in the finals?" A week later, that’s exactly what they did.
For the first time in a major tournament the West Course was utilized during the ’98 Amateur. With 312 players in the starting field, both courses were needed for the 36-hole stroke-play qualifying. Unlike its more famous big brother to the East, the West Course remains very true to Donald Ross’ original design concepts, and it held up just fine. Playing to a par of 69, the average qualifying score was 5.34 over par while it was 5.89 over par on the East.