Colegrove Captures Arizona Amateur Championship

From “Huff’s Stuff” Arizona Golf Blog by Bill Huffman at the Arizona Golf Authority

Evidently hard work, self-confidence, imagination and perseverance still play critical roles in the game of golf. Just ask Christian Colegrove, who came out of nowhere to capture the 89th Arizona Amateur Championship.

Colegrove, a 20-year-old senior at the University of Arizona and a virtual unknown as the No. 57 seed in the Arizona Golf Association’s marquee event, left a talented field of veterans, collegians and high school kids scratching their heads after he blazed his way through the bracket at Scottsdale’s stately Pinnacle Peak Country Club last week (July 29-Aug. 3). Even the final match, where he dispatched another unknown, 18-year-old James Russo of Scottsdale, in 19 holes had people asking: “Who’s Christian Colegrove?”

Now we know.

“I knew I was probably a long shot coming into this, but to be 100 percent honest, yes, I thought I could win it,” said Colegrove, who played baseball as a kid until he blew out his right arm and then started playing golf left-handed his senior year at Chandler Basha High School.

“Earlier this year in Tucson, I won the club championship at LaPaloma. Prior, in my senior year of high school, I won a JGAA event at Encanto. Other than that, I really didn’t have any real notable success.

“But I kept steadily improving, and that’s what kept me going. I also began to gain a lot of confidence, not just skill-wise but in the mental game, and I kept entering AGA events just trying to make cuts.”

That’s right, for the past two years, Colegrove had entered the AZ Amateur and failed to make the match play. In fact, last year at the Gallery, Colegrove played so poorly, “I was at the bottom of the pack after stroke play.” And it wasn’t all that impressive this time around in qualifying on Monday and Tuesday at Pinnacle Peak except his 71-73 got him the 57th out of 64 seeds and that was all he needed to state his case.

Oh, yes, and one other “key change,” as Colegrove called it, that came midway through his second round of qualifying.

“I hadn’t been making any putts, so on the second day on the 10th hole, I switched to cross-handed,” Colegrove said of the left-hand low style of putting. “I hadn’t putted that way in over two years, but sometimes when things aren’t going well you need to try something different.”

The results were uncanny even if Colegrove did need an incredible 112 holes in six matches – an average of 18.6 holes per match – to get the job done. That included 19 holes in both his semifinal victory match over Arizona State’s Austin Quick and Russo.

“I had a lot of good vibes going in because I knew I had worked hard,” he said. “So it was a privilege and an honor to win this tournament on such a big stage.”

In the aftermath, Colegrove, who said his game “wasn’t really good enough to play college golf for the Wildcats,” praised the only two people who have taught him in the ins and outs of the game in recent years.

“My dad (William Colegrove) has really helped me a lot, first in baseball and then golf,” he said. “And my mom (Cara Black) has brought a lot to it, too, mostly by helping me to always see things differently.”

Certainly changing his putting style after he had already started the tournament was a big leap of faith for Colegrove. But keeping his cool and being patient to the end against Russo, a former Scottsdale Chaparral standout that is headed to South Mountain Community College, also was huge. Especially after Colegrove had hit back-to-back tee shots out of bounds on the 12th and 13th holes of the championship match.

“I didn’t let it get to me, and as a result I halved that (13th hole) with a bogey, and that turned out to be pivotal,” said Colegrove, who missed a 10-foot birdie on the 18th hole to send the match into overtime before he birdied the first extra hole (No. 1) to seal the deal.

“Christian played well, putted great, and he deserved to win,” said Russo, who was playing in the match play portion of the AZ Amateur for only his second time after losing in the first round of last year’s tournament.

“I guess I never would have picked me to make it to the final match going into the week, a lot of fun and a great experience. I played some really good golf to get there, although I was a little shaky (in the final match). I’m not sure if it was my nerves because I’ve never played in anything this big before.”

Of course, neither had Colegrove, who turned out to be a giant killer.

“Believe it or not, if there was one match this week that kind of set the tone and got me over the hurdle of winning at this level, it was the first one against (Kristoffer) Marshall, who just won the Arizona Mid-Amateur,” said Colegrove, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right arm in high school before deciding to move on to golf.

“All my matches were tough, though. One day I had to go 24 holes (to beat Russell Bergstedt III), and I was so exhausted. But I came back 30 minutes later to play in the (Round of 16) and win again (against Pima Community College player David Chung, 3 and 2). I think for the week, I played something like 148 holes of golf, and that’s probably why neither myself nor Russo had our ‘A’ games for the final match. But I give (Russo) credit for sticking with it, and battling me all the way, especially on that back nine.”

Russo had won the first hole to go 1-up, but Colegrove claimed the next three holes and led, 2-up, heading into the back nine. Nip and tuck they went down the stretch until both finished the 18 holes all square to set up the one last shootout at the par-5 first hole.

Asked what he’ll take from his career-changing victory, Colegrove said he wasn’t sure. At the moment, he added, “I don’t even have another tournament on my schedule although I’m sure that’s going to change once I have a little time to savor this victory – and I am going to savor it for awhile.”

“It was such a big physical feat, playing all that golf and having so many incredibly tough, long matches, like the one I played against the No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals,” he said of his 3-and-2 win over Bryan Hoops of Chandler. “So I was struggling a little with my swing a little there at the end.”

But there are crossroads on the horizon, and Colegrove said he plans to sit down with his two chief advisers soon and decide which fork in the road he’s going to be on.

“Before going into college, I told my dad my goal was to have options when I graduate, like if my golf game improved enough maybe I’d try the minitours, or if it didn’t, I’d get my degree in finance early and maybe go into graduate school,” said Colegrove, who will get his degree in December, almost a year early.

“Now, after winning the Amateur, I want to keep playing golf and see how far I can progress. When the improvement stops, then I’ll reassess my goals.”

Such thinking is what earned Christian Colegrove — perhaps the biggest surprise winner in years — the 89th Arizona Amateur Championship.

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