Unlike most stories, this one is becoming less exaggerated as the years go by.
In the days that followed his victory in the 2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links, Clay Ogden offered an estimate of "five or 10 thousand" fans lining the fairways for his quarterfinal match with Michelle Wie.
Seven years later, he cited 2,000 onlookers — likely about double the actual figure. Yet even with minor embellishment, it remains a remarkable tale of a player who was not even distinguished as a BYU golfer at the time and — unlike other recent Public Links winners — is still trying to establish himself as a pro.
"As much as anything, it just gave me the confidence in myself," said Ogden, who lives in Farmington. "I proved to myself that I could play with the top amateurs in the world."
So as the 2012 tournament tees off Monday at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway, Ogden is savoring the memories of that week in Ohio. Regardless of what happens at Soldier Hollow, nobody will match Ogden’s story. That’s because there’s nobody as celebrated as Wie in the field. At age 15, she entered the Public Links with the goal of winning and thereby qualifying for the Masters. Wie attracted huge crowds at Shaker Run Golf Course, only to discover that Ogden thrived in that atmosphere.
Just to reach that quarterfinal match, Ogden had to overcome a bogey in the playoff to qualify for match play, then rally from 3 down with four holes to play in the second round. Against Wie, he birdied four of the first five holes and went on to a 5-and-4 victory that stunned seemingly everyone.
Bill McCarthy, the tournament director, describes how Ogden once hit an approach shot close to the hole, drawing no reaction from the gallery. "I mean, nothing," he said. He just looked at Ogden, and they exchanged shrugs.
Maybe the most impressive aspect of Ogden’s performance was his ability to regroup after that emotional quarterfinal match and play in the semifinals that afternoon. And then in the 36-hole final, he lost four of the first seven holes to Martin Ureta and battled back, finally taking the lead with a birdie on the 34th hole. He won 1 up.
Ogden remembers working on his swing with a new teacher in the couple of weeks preceding the State Amateur — he lost in the quarterfinals on a Saturday, then flew to Ohio — and having everything come together at the right time.
The victory sent him to the Masters the following April, when he played two rounds with Trevor Immelman, a former Public Links champion who would win the Masters two years later. PGA Tour regulars Ryan Moore and Brandt Snedeker preceded Ogden as Public Links winners. Meanwhile, Daniel Summerhays, Ogden’s teammates at Davis High School and BYU, is thriving in his second tour season.
Ogden never has qualified for the PGA Tour, but has pieced together a decent minitour career, highlighted by two victories in the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open. This season has become more of a struggle for him, as he’s earned only $12,175 in 10 events on the National Pro Golf Tour.
Even so, "I like the way things are shaping up," he said.
Having his name among the other impressive winners of the Public Links is proof that Ogden can play at an elite level, and should inspire the BYU golfers in the 2012 field: Zac Blair, Justin Keiley and Adam Tebbs.
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