TRINITY, Texas—Riding the red-hot putter of the No. 1-ranked junior golfer in the world, the United States overcame a two-shot deficit with three holes to play and defeated a valiant Mexico team to win the Spirit International Amateur Championship for the fourth consecutive time.
The 17-year-old reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion, Philip Barbaree Jr. curled in snaking birdie putts of 18 and 15 feet, respectively, on the 16th and 17th holes of picturesque Whispering Pines Golf Club to help the U.S. rally for the victory. His teammate Will Zalatoris, a 19-year-old sophomore at Wake Forest and the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, capped off the week with a two-putt par on the final hole to take the title from the talented and fiery Mexican Team.
Since 2009, the U.S. has won the coveted International Team competition, one of five simultaneous championships at stake in the 54-hole, biennial Four-Ball Stroke Play event. The unique tournament features teams of two men and two women amateurs from the world’s top-20 ranked countries. In true Olympic fashion, the top three finishers in each of the five competitions receive Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals.
As a team, the U.S. finished at 38-under-par 394. That was a single shot better than Mexico, which claimed the Silver Medal with a total of 37-under 395. Spain took Bronze at 33-under 399.
While Barbaree, winner of the AJGA’s Rolex Tournament of Champions this summer, helped lead the U.S. Team to the marquee title, he also won the Men’s Individual gold medal, which comes with an exemption into a 2016 Web.com Tour event. Barbaree made nine birdies in the second round and a total of 18 for the week on Whispering Pines’ slick Bermuda grass greens that ran between 12-13 feet on the Stimpmeter. That tied Barbaree with Australia’s Min Woo Lee for the Men’s Individual gold, but Barbaree poured in yet another 15-foot birdie on the first playoff hole to score the exemption.
“It’s crazy,” said Barbaree, known simply as “PBJ” to his friends and family. “Putting is the best part of my game, and my team sort of relied on my putting this week. To make this one in the playoff was icing on the cake.”
Barbaree and Zalatoris also won the Gold Medal in the Men’s Team event. They combined to shoot 24-under 192, which clipped France’s 20-under 196 by four shots. Spain’s Men took the Silver Medal with a score of 18-under 198.
Zalatoris, who last summer won the 105th Texas Amateur, Trans-Mississippi Championship and U.S. Junior in succession, said the Gold Medal-winning performance this week was a highlight of his young career.
“You could argue that any of those wins were the best, but this is No. 1 for me,” said Zalatoris, who earned the prestigious Arnold Palmer Scholarship at Wake Forest. “We won Gold for our country. That’s in a whole different category by itself.
Indeed, it was a total team victory for the U.S., as the Women’s Team played their best golf in the final round. Hannah O’Sullivan, the 17-year-old winner of this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, and Mariel Galdiano, also 17 and the reigning Canadian Women’s Amateur champion, combined to shoot 7-under 65 in the final round to boost the Americans to victory. Galdiano sunk a 20-foot, downhill birdie putt on the 18th green to set the table for Barbaree and Zalatoris, who played behind them and alongside the Mexican Men in the final group.
“I knew it was an important putt, and I was shaking a little,” Galdiano said. “I made the best stroke I could and watched it go in the hole.”
U.S. Captain Rob Addington, also the Executive Director of the Texas Golf Association, said he couldn’t have been more proud of the way his players came together as a team. A former collegiate player at the University of Texas, Addington has been around the game for a long time, and he and the TGA have been involved in the administration side of The Spirit International since its inaugural playing in 2001. Addington knows as well as anyone that the week at Whispering Pines is about more than just golf.
“We had three goals this week,” he said. “We wanted to be good ambassadors for the game of golf; we wanted to have fun, and we wanted to win. I think we checked off all three boxes.”
While disappointed with the final outcome, the Mexican Team kept their heads held high and rightfully so. Led by Captain Santigo Casado, the team comprised of Luis Gerardo Garza, 17, Raul Pereda, 19, Maria Fassi, 17, and Ana Paula Valdes, 18, pushed the U.S. team to the edge and forced the Americans to play their absolute best golf to win.
“It’s sad,” Casado said. “Coming down the stretch we were one up with three to play, but the U.S. did an outstanding job. It’s still a good result for us. I’m really proud of my team because they gave 100 percent.”
Fassi in particular shined throughout the week. The 2013 Mexican Junior Girls’ champion won Gold in the Women’s Individual competition for lighting up Whispering Pines with 17 birdies and an eagle. She beat Silver Medal winners Bronte Law from England and Emma Henrickson from Sweden by five shots. Fassi and Valdes also won the Gold in the Women’s Team competition with a stellar score of 21-under 195. That topped England’s 17-under 199 by four shots.
“This means a lot because as a team we struggled and fought hard all week,” Fassi said. “For me to win two Gold Medals for Mexico is unbelievable. I hung in there and stayed patient and results came.”
Twenty-year-old Law, who won a pair of Silver Medals for Women’s Team with 22-year-old Hayley Davis and Women’s Individual, said she was excited about the way she and Davis overcame a slow start in the first round
“Today it finally clicked,” Law said. “We got on a bit of roll and it was so fun. The entire week was great – getting to meet all the players from the other countries and doing the activities off the course. I’ve never played in a tournament like this.”
Those words are music to the ears of Corby Robertson, the Whispering Pines Owner/Founder and the Chairman of the Spirit Golf Association. He started this one-of-a-kind event 14 years ago with the intent of showcasing one of the top golf courses in America to the best amateurs in the world for an unforgettable week of fun, friendship and fellowship. Robertson was visibly beaming with pride at the dramatic conclusion of this year’s Spirit International.
“That was the tightest last round we’ve ever had,” said Robertson, an outside linebacker for the University of Texas in the 1960s who has been one of Houston’s most generous philanthropists for the past several decades. “It was awesome golf and a glorious week. This is what The Spirit is all about.”
For complete scoring for the 2015 Spirit International Amateur Championship, click here. For more information on The Spirit International, The Spirit Golf Association membership opportunities, click here or contact The Spirit Golf Association office at 281-298-2610.
• About Whispering Pines: Located along the northern shores of Lake Livingston, Whispering Pines is set against the beautiful piney woods of East Texas. It offers philanthropic memberships to a secluded, world-class golf club experience. Since opening in 2000, Whispering Pines has received national honors. Golf Digest, for example, named Whispering Pines the “Third Best New Private Course in America,” the “Best in Texas” and 11th in America’s 50 Greatest Golf Retreats. Additionally, the course has been ranked as the No. 1 in nine of the past 10 years in the Dallas Morning News’ Texas Golf Course Rankings.
In 15 short years, The Spirit International has become a one of the premier amateur championships in the world. The list of former Spirit International players shows the type of elite talent that passes through Whispering Pines for the biennial event. Major professional champions such as Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng all played in The Spirit International during their amateur careers. Other former Spirit International alumni include Brooke Henderson, Brandt Snedeker, Matteo Manassero, Francesco and Edoardo Molinari. For a complete list of Spirit International alumni, click here.
The Spirit Golf Association, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, is responsible for the Whispering Pines membership program and tournament management of The Spirit International. The Texas Golf Association is the governing association for The Spirit International.