Baker's late birdies seal title at Palmetto Amateur

·5 min read

Jul. 9—Brantley Baker wasn't going to let his stoic demeanor fade Saturday during the final round of the Palmetto Amateur.

Playing in the final group on the final day didn't change how he approached Palmetto Golf Club, and he wasn't going to show any nerves he may have been feeling.

His expression didn't change when he made a bad bogey on the par-5 14th hole, leaving him two shots off the lead with just four holes to play. Nor did it change when he rolled in back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th holes to surge back ahead.

It wasn't until after he tapped in on the 18th that he could finally crack a smile and let a little emotion show — even a little dance move as he stood by his golf bag with his parents next to Palmetto's clubhouse.

Baker, a rising sophomore at Georgia Southern, never lost his composure over 72 holes and was rock solid down the stretch to claim the title at the 47th annual Palmetto Amateur by a shot over Runchanapong Youprayong at 10-under 270.

"It felt great," Baker said, offering a smile while clutching the Berry Crain, Jr. Memorial Trophy. "It was pretty stressful just all week, especially the last two days. That last tap-in putt was just really good."

The tournament appeared to be in Youprayong's grasp after he made birdies on holes 13 and 14 while Baker went par-bogey. That put Youprayong, a rising junior at the University of South Florida, ahead by two shots as the final group approached Palmetto's finishing loop.

"I made a dumb bogey there, just a couple of bad decisions and a bad golf shot," Baker said. "I knew I just needed some birdies coming in, and luckily the putts fell in and I ended up winning."

Baker got one of those shots back at the par-4 15th. Youprayong drew a tough lie in a fairway bunker off the tee and could only gouge the ball across the green. He left his par putt short after chipping onto the green, and Baker got up-and-down to cut the deficit to a single shot.

A bogey on the par-3 16th was the only blemish on Baker's scorecard during a third-round 65. He hit 5-iron long of the green and couldn't save par, but with the tee moved back about 10 yards Saturday he decided to hit the same club.

He aimed just a little left of the flag and pushed his shot just enough that it was right on line with the cup. It settled 3 feet short for an easy birdie on one of Palmetto's toughest holes, tying for the lead after Youprayong saved par from short of the green.

Baker hit iron off the tee on 17 to give himself the yardage he wanted for his approach, while Youprayong's tee shot drifted right and his approach found a greenside bunker. They went birdie-bogey for a two-shot swing that left Baker ahead by two heading to the 18th tee.

"I knew I wanted a wedge, because that's kind of a tough green to hit into visually," Baker said. "I played it out right a little bit, wanted to be just a hair past the hole. I left myself an uphill 15-footer, and that's a pretty easy putt to read."

At that point all he needed to do was keep the ball in play, and he did that with another safe iron off the tee. Youprayong hit driver to try to make up the deficit and went right of the greenside bunker, and his pitch to the green ended up in the sand.

Baker left both his birdie and par putts short, but his play over the previous three holes put him in a position where he didn't have to make them. He tapped in for bogey and embraced his father Jacob, his caddie for the week.

Baker and Youprayong each shot 68 in the final round, and they were the only two players in the field to shoot in the 60s in all four rounds.

The University of Kentucky's Alex Goff shared the 54-hole lead with Baker, but he couldn't keep pace on his way to a 71 and a tie for third at 7 under with Ohio State transfer and 36-hole leader Neal Shipley (68).

The University of North Florida's Cody Carroll (71) finished alone in fifth at 5 under, and the University of South Carolina's Rafe Reynolds (71) added to his fourth-place finish in March at the Palmetto Intercollegiate with a sixth-place finish at 3 under.

Aiken's Brian Quackenbush (76) finished tied for 40th at 12 over.

Baker is the latest player to win the Palmetto Amateur in his debut appearance. He said following Friday's third round that he didn't intend to change his mindset heading into the final round tied for the lead — so often easier said than done, but he said after the win that he was glad he didn't have to.

He'll carry plenty of momentum with him as he tries to qualify for this month's Southeastern Amateur, and he said he hopes to return to Palmetto next summer to defend his title.

"The history of this course is so cool, and the greens are perfect," he said. "These are probably the best greens I've ever played. They're unreal. The golf course is just really fun to walk. It's really cool, a really special place."