GVSU's Nick Krueger wins Michigan Amateur with 18th-hole heroics

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Bath Township — Match play is a funny thing, or not so funny.

Things can change in a flash, as they did in the finals of the 2022 Michigan Amateur, where Grand Valley State's Nick Krueger had a two-hole lead with seven holes to go and then found himself trailing with four holes remaining. For many, that could be too much, too fast, to overcome. But not for the mentally tough.

"For me, it almost got me fired up again," Krueger said. "I was slowly leaking, and after I go 1-down, then it's, 'OK, I've gotta make something happen.' You almost get like a second wind."

Nick Krueger hoists the Michigan Amateur championship trophy Friday.

That second wind led to a knockout punch. Needing birdie on the 18th hole to extend the championship match, Krueger poured in a 20-footer, then won the 111th Michigan Amateur, run by the Golf Association of Michigan, on the first extra hole when plenty-worthy opponent Patrick Deardorff of Eastern Michigan found the hazard off the tee Friday at Hawk Hollow Golf Club near Lansing.

Krueger, 21, of Spring Lake, Michigan, counts Friday's championship among the biggest of his young golfing career. He won the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in 2021.

He joins a long list of notable past champions, like Charles Kocsis, plus past PGA Tour winners like Dan Pohl, John Morse and Ryan Brehm.

"It means a lot," said Krueger, who took down the title with friends, family and college coaches walking alongside the final match. "I know this tournament has a lot of history.

"It means so much to be able to compete in this and be one of the names on that trophy."

His name goes on the trophy, but not the story of how he got it done — there'd be no room for that.

The championship match was tied through eight holes, then Krueger took a 1-up lead through nine holes. Deardorff's approach on the par-4 ninth found the trees on the left, the ball was lost, and it led to a triple bogey. Krueger won that hole despite trouble of his own, his approach going long.

Krueger then went 2-up after 11, a short par 4 where Deardorff pulled his approach left of the green, leaving him short-sided. He hit a nice chip to get it to within 6 feet, but missed the putt.

"Just go on with it and keep moving," said Deardorff, a Clarkston native who's naturally right-handed but plays left-handed (except for his putting) so as to not screw up his baseball swing as a youth. "You're going to make a bad swing after eight rounds of golf that we've played. Just keep going, not really worry about it and try to make some birdies on the back."

That, Deardorff did, starting at the par-5 13th. Krueger actually found the green, but a long way away, while Deardorff hit his approach left of the green, short-sided again. Deardorff chipped to 15 feet and made the putt, while Krueger three-putted from about 65 feet.

Then, at the par-5 14th, Deardorff found the fairway and hit an approach to about 20 feet past the flag, just on the collar, while Krueger found the rough and hit over the green into the rough. Left with a delicate down-hiller, Krueger left the chip 8 feet short and missed the putt on the high side, and the match was tied again.

Then, at the par-5 15th, Krueger hit his second shot left of the green and a long ways from the hole, while Deardorff was right and closer. Krueger three-putted again for par, and Deardorff made a 5-footer to take over the lead in the match for the first time since the sixth hole.

And Deardorff was doing it on nearly no sleep. He was up at 3 a.m., battling a touch of the flu.

"I just had to battle through that," said Deardorff, 21. "I just kept my head and just tried to keep going."

Both had birdie putts at the short par-4 16th, which had the tees moved up to entice some players to try and drive it — though Krueger and Deardorff politely declined. Both missed the putts, Krueger's just barely.

And they halved the par-3 17th, too, sending the match the distance.

Deardorff, with the honor, laid back off the tee to find the fairway on the 411-yard par 4, which has trouble right and long. Krueger, knowing he needed a birdie to stay alive, hit driver and originally thought he'd lost it. The ball was leaking right, but not as much as he feared — and ended up leaving him in a perfect position. After Deardorff went left of the green on his approach, Krueger went right after the flag, which was tucked right over the water. From 118, he hit a gap wedge to 20 feet.

Deardorff, as he'd done all day, hit a magnificent chip out of a little grass bunker to about 3 feet, all but forcing Krueger to make — which he did, letting out a fist pump.

"You dream of making putts on 18 like that for these events," Krueger said.

"It's so cool to finally be in that position."

That birdie sent the match back to the par-4 first hole, where Krueger striped a driver right down the middle, while Deardorff pulled a 3 wood into the hazard on the right. It was the ninth time Deardorff had played the hole this week (two rounds of stroke play, six matches, extra hole), and it was the first time he missed the fairway. After a drop, his approach caught a tree limb, a bunker shot went long, and a lengthy putt missed.

After that putt, Deardorff removed his hat and shook the hand of the newest Michigan Amateur champion.

Krueger could sympathize with Deardorff. Krueger made the finals of the 2018 Michigan Junior Amateur, but lost to Patrick Sullivan in extra holes when Krueger hit a tee shot out of bounds.

Deardorff, meanwhile, won the 2019 Michigan Junior Amateur and was looking for the double-dip with the likes of Sullivan, last year's Michigan Amateur champion who couldn't defend because he turned pro.

"I know exactly how Patrick feels," Krueger said. "It's really hard, but it's a learning experience."

Krueger advanced to the final by beating Michigan State's August Meekhof, 1-up, in the semifinals, while Deardorff turned back Grosse Pointe Park's David Szymanski, 2 and 1, in the morning.

Next year's Michigan Amateur will be at Oakland Hills Country Club, on the North Course.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984