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Two Guys, One Dream

Williamson, Russell Take Aim at U.S. Am

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  • Hanover’s Peter Williamson, shown last summer at the U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament in Hudson, Mass.,  is playing in the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational this weekend. (Valley News - Greg Fennell)

    Hanover’s Peter Williamson, shown last summer at the U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament in Hudson, Mass., is playing in the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational this weekend. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover’s Peter Williamson, shown last summer at the U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament in Hudson, Mass.,  is playing in the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational this weekend. (Valley News - Greg Fennell)

Brookline, Mass. — If Hanover’s Peter Williamson was an atlas, he’d be one of the blue highways on the page. Away from the interstates, out of reach of the cities, off in the countryside, the road less traveled.

Grantham’s Evan Russell is becoming familiar with that route.

Their golf fortunes unite today, along with those of more than 300 others, when the United States Amateur begins in the Boston suburbs. It comes at a time of significance for the historic old course, The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., that will serve as primary host.

For one, the Am represents a beginning; for the other, most likely an end. Russell and Williamson find themselves smack in the middle of a field filled with this country’s collegiate stars.

“It’ll be a big deal; I want to make match play,” Russell said on Wednesday at the Country Club of Barre after winning his first Vermont Amateur championship. “I played horrid last time when I was in a USGA event like this, so I’m trying to play better this time.”

In a phone interview on Thursday, Willaimson said, “It’s one of the most prestigious courses in New England, and I’ve never come close to it.

“I’m excited to see it. I’ve heard a lot of good things. I’m trying to get my game ready for it.”

For all of the talent amassed this week, the course is the main story.

The Country Club was among the five organizations that united to form the United States Golf Association almost 120 years ago. It has a rich history in the annals of the nation’s game.

The U.S. Am arrives at the 100th anniversary of the course’s first significant moment, amateur Francis Ouimet’s shocking victory at the 1913 U.S. Open. In addition to its 15 previous USGA tournaments, The Country Club hosted the 1999 Ryder Cup, the famed “Battle of Brookline” that saw a record-setting United States rally — for a 14½-13½ win — followed by European charges of unsavory behavior in the ensuing celebration.

This week’s Amateur will be the sixth staged at The Country Club, a record. (Charles River Country club, in nearby Newton, Mass., will serve as the accompanying course for today’s and Tuesday’s stroke-play qualifying rounds.)

“You want to go out and try to blitz the supplemental course, which is usually easier,” Williamson said. “Even par or a couple under on the feature course is generally going to get you pretty high up on the field. … If you shoot a couple under, you’ll be in the dance. One you’re there, it’s a crapshoot on who you play.”

Russell, 20, made the field for his first U.S. Amateur by sharing the win at a 36-hole qualifier in Brewster, Mass., on July 30. Coming between a mid-July New England Amateur championship and last week’s Vermont Amateur win, Russell enters Brookline playing the best golf of his life and aiming for continued success.

“I think it’s showed that I can win,” Russell said. “Going into that last round at New Englands, I knew I was winning, but I hadn’t really been there before, leading by myself. Here, the past few years at the (Vermont) Am, I’ve been a couple back, but I haven’t been able to have the lead by myself. To be able to close it out (at New Englands) gave me the confidence the past few weeks and showed that I can really do it.”

He also wants to erase memories of his only other USGA appearance.

Still an Essex (Vt.) High School competitor at the time, a year away from a family move to Grantham and a transfer to Kimball Union Academy, Russell made the field for the 2009 U.S. Junior Amateur at New Jersey’s Trump National Golf Club. The week was less than memorable for Russell, who shot 79-83—162 and missed match play by eight strokes.

Since then, Russell has become one of the region’s foremost amateurs. He’ll return to the University of Hartford men’s golf team in a few weeks, trying to build on a freshman season that led to all-region and all-conference plaudits as well as the American Sky Conference’s top newcomer award.

“It’s pretty cool,” Russell said. “It’ll be special to go in the locker room (at The Country Club). I’ve heard they haven’t changed much. I’m looking forward to that.

“I may not win, but I can certainly try. If I get hot, maybe. If I’m playing like I am now, I think I’ll be all right. My iron play is pretty good right now. If I hit the fairway, I’m probably going to hit the greens. … I’ve been able to get the ball pretty close to the hole consistently. That’s big.”

Last year, Williamson, 23, thought he would be playing professionally by now. Instead, a failed effort at PGA Tour qualifying school combined with opportunities created by a superior 2012 campaign led him to remain an amateur for one more season.

He began this summer optimistic last year’s baubles — wins at the North & South Amateur and Southern Am, a semifinal finish at the Western Am — might lead to consideration for the U.S. roster at the Walker Cup, amateur golf’s Ryder Cup, in September. His hopes have faded with a lack of results, meaning this week’s competition is likely his last as an amateur.

The Hanover High and Dartmouth College graduate moved to Florida last fall to prepare for pro golf. He joined a prestigious club and made tweaks to his game that have yet to turn into positive results.

As Russell continues down the golf road less traveled, Williamson is ready to find out what awaits him at the next exit.

“It’s going to be a long shot since the summer’s not been great,” said Williamson, who was exempted into this U.S. Am, his fourth, by virtue of his World Amateur Golf Ranking status earlier this year. “I haven’t been playing well, and I’ve not proved myself this summer. I’m still looking to make a run, make a last charge.”

Chip Shots: Russell begins stroke play on The Country Club’s ninth hole today at 1:25 p.m. While a Grantham resident and member at Eastman Golf Links, Russell still considers himself a Vermonter, having been born in Burlington and raised in Essex. He also plays out of the Country Club of Vermont in Waterbury … Williamson has an early wakeup call, teeing off at Charles River at 7:10 a.m. … The U.S. Am field ranges in age from 14-year-old Andrew Walker, of Battle Creek, Mich., to 59-year-old David Szewczul, of Farmington, Conn. … In addition to Russell and Williamson, New Hampshire will be represented by Surry’s Chelso Barrett, Bedford’s Will McLaughlin and Gilford’s Chris Houston. Barrett was the runner-up to current PGA Tour pro Jordan Spieth at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur. There is no current Vermont resident in the field. … The top 64 players after Tuesday’s second qualifying round advance to match play. All matches will be staged at The Country Club.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.