ROLAND — Sebastian Cappelen can’t explain it, but he likes the feeling he’s experienced on the 16th tee box of The Alotian Club this week in the 111th Western Amateur Championship. It’s where he turned around his Saturday morning match against 17-year-old Robby Shelton IV of Wilmer, Ala., and it propelled him to a hot start in the afternoon quarterfinals against former North Texas golfer Carlos Ortiz.
The University of Arkansas senior-to-be, a native of Denmark, didn’t have to play from 16 on in against Ortiz, polishing off a 4 and 3 win over one of the hottest golfers of the week. But Cappelen needed the magic over the last three holes against Shelton to force sudden death, and he won it on the second extra hole with a conceded birdie.
“I was actually hitting the ball really well,” Cappelen said of the first match, which he led 2-up after seven holes. “I got a little bit into something, I don’t know what was going on, but couldn’t really feel the swing or see the ball start on target.
“But, for some reason, the last couple of days the last three holes of this golf course, it’s like some higher power just doesn’t want me to exit this tournament.
Cappelen will face Oklahoma State’s Jordan Niebrugge in a morning semifinal, right after Sean Dale of Jacksonville, Fla., and Texas Longhorn Kramer Hickok start match play at 8 a.m. The morning winners will tee off approximately at 1 p.m. for the championship.
Cappelen’s sophomore-to-be teammate at Arkansas, Taylor Moore, was humbled in his Saturday first-round match, falling to 15-year-old David Snyder of McAllen, Texas, 5 and 3.
Four-day medalist Patrick Rodgers, who scorched Alotian with an 18-under-par 270, was ousted early Saturday by Dale, a former University of North Florida player who is hoping to earn a Walker Cup selection before he goes to Web.com qualifying school in October. Stanford’s Rogers will head to Brookline, Mass., for the U.S. Amateur.
Cappelen will have a chance to be the second Razorback in three years to win the Western Amateur. Ethan Tracy won the championship two years ago.
But with just three holes to play in the morning, Cappelen’s chances to advance seemed dire. He birdied the par-three 16th, used a flop shot from just off the green to set up a birdie on the 17th, and the players agreed to good-good bogey putts on the 505-yard 18th to move back to No. 1.
Shelton made a gutsy birdie on No. 1 to tie Cappelen, who had barely missed an eagle putt.
On the 400-yard No. 2, Cappelen went with driver while Shelton used a fairway wood off the tee. Cappelen had about 70 yards on Shelton after their drives, and Shelton’s second shot ran off the back of the green, while Cappelen’s 60-degree wedge from about 60 yards left him 8 feet for birdie. Shelton didn’t get his pitch on the putting surface, chipped his fourth close and conceded the match.
Then Cappelen came roaring out for his afternoon match against Ortiz with almost the identical drive and second shot to the par-five No. 1 — driver and 4-iron to the middle left of the green. This time, his slightly right-breaking 30-foot putt dropped, and he was off and running. Ortiz helped with bogeys at 4 and 5.
When the match appeared like it could turn, after Cappelen hooked a drive into trouble on 7 and the lost hole, the Razorback bounced back with birdies at the par-five 8th and the par-four 9th to lead 4-up at the turn. The birdies helped Cappelen know he had nothing to be worried about from the missed swing at No. 7, he said. Fans following the group hooted “Go Hogs” loudly.
Cappelen said, “I had a really good feeling with the swing. It was comfortable for me over the ball on every shot. That made it a lot easier. I had a couple of bad ones, and that was mostly fatigue …. I don’t know what to say except it was a great feeling.”
Ortiz got one hole back when Cappelen messed up No. 12, but Cappelen wouldn’t let Ortiz off the mat — matching Ortiz’ birdies on 13 and 14 and then closing it out on 15 with another birdie.
“Even though on the back nine I tried to come back, I made a couple of birdies and he made them, too,” said Ortiz, who lives in Denton, Texas. “There is nothing I can do. I’m happy. I did my best. He just played better than me. Congrats to him.”
Now, Cappelen’s biggest problem is keeping his caddy in town. Former Razorback Jamie Marshall has caddied for Cappelen all week, but his plans were to leave Sunday for a Monday qualifying in Springfield, Mo., for a Web.com event.
“He’s thinking about staying,” Cappelen said, adding that he didn’t believe he would have gone this far in the tournament without Marshall’s help. “For me to just walk up to the shot every time and have the yardage and have the club pretty much, it takes a lot of stress out. He’s a great golfer himself, he knows what he’s doing and I trust the decisions he’s making.”
Such decisions were obvious in the playoff against Shelton, who will enroll at Alabama this fall and join a handful of golfers who competed here this week but didn’t reach the match-play portion. The difference in the playoff was choosing driver instead of fairway wood on the tee at No. 2.
“We were talking about that hole and I’ve hit 5-wood off that tee in the first couple of rounds on the left side, where you want to be, but you can’t even see the pin, it’s a blind shot,” Cappelen said. “We played with one guy who hit right actually with driver and there was so much room right with pine straw up there and he was able to spin it out of that. So, we’re like, it’s just as wide up there as it is [left], and we’ll be able to see the pin and have a shorter putt. That’s why we went with driver and I’ll probably go with driver again [today].”