When NCAA runner-up Rick Lamb made four birdies over a six-hole stretch during the fourth round of the 60th Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions, he couldn’t help but notice every time he looked at the leaderboard, Lamb failed to pare down his deficit.
When Cory Whitsett, who recently helped Alabama win a national championship and was competing in his third Sunnehanna Amateur, birdied Nos. 3 and 4 Sunday morning, the fast start wasn’t one to savor.
Lamb’s inability to make a move and Whitsett’s lack of optimism can directly be attributed to one thing – the steady, patient play of Steven Ihm.
Entering Sunday’s final round with a one-stroke lead over hard-charging Rodolfo Cazaubon, Ihm birdied the first two holes and shot a 4-under-par 31 on the front nine. It provided Ihm with a lead that proved insurmountable as the University of Iowa product capped a dominating stay at Sunnehanna by winning the championship.
“I just had it going. I made that putt on (No. 1) for birdie and I was like, ‘OK, this is a good start.’ Then, I dropped that bomb on (No. 2),” Ihm said. “I played pretty consistently throughout the entire front nine.”
Ihm’s bomb was a 50-foot putt on the par-4 No. 2 that served notice he had plans on leading this tournament from beginning to end. Ihm, who finished tied with six others for 37th place at the 2012 Sunnehanna Amateur, held or shared the lead after every round and he led by five strokes with nine to play on the final day.
“My entire season at Iowa, I stayed consistent and I really got hot at the end there coming into the summer,” Ihm said. “It just shows that I’ve matured a lot. Last year, I hit it in some terrible spots and I got negative. It was the complete opposite this year. I stayed patient.”
Ihm finished the round with a 3-under 67, his third red number of the tournament. He finished at 8-under (272), three strokes ahead of Whitsett (275) and five ahead of Lamb and last year’s runner-up Mike Miller, who tied for third at 278.
Cazaubon, whose 63 on Saturday was the low round of the tournament, struggled with his short game Sunday and fell into a tie for sixth with Matthew NeSmith and North Texas teammate Carlos Ortiz at
1-under. Cameron Wilson placed fifth at 2-under.
After six pars, Lamb birdied Nos. 7, 8, 10 and 12 to move within three strokes of Ihm, whose putter faltered early on the back nine. Despite Lamb’s run, he never drew closer than three shots of the lead.
“I was hitting the ball well all day and feeling really good,” Lamb said. “Then, I three-putted No. 14 and it derailed me. I figured I would need about a 6-under because every time I looked at the leaderboard, it looked like (Ihm) was playing well. He always seemed to be four, five shots ahead.”
Miller carded five birdies on the day, but, like Lamb, never threatened the lead.
“I’d walk by the leaderboard and notice that (Ihm’s) really taking it to us,” Miller said. “It was playing tough out there. The wind started whipping. I’m hitting it well, but he’s just playing at a different level.”
Whitsett put together a fourth consecutive solid round. The 2012-13 first-team All-American played every round at par or lower, and his steady play created an interesting moment or two on the back nine.
Paired with Ihm and Cazaubon, Whitsett had an opportunity to pull within two at No. 16 after Ihm three-putted two of the three holes.
That opportunity came up short when Whitsett missed a short par putt.
“I played well, but I wasn’t making up that much ground, so it was a little frustrating,” Whitsett said. “The putt was pretty fast from above the hole, so I was just trying to be cautious. The greens were a touch slower today with the weather and stuff. … I did have a chance there. It was a six-footer. I just didn’t convert. It was a hard putt and had a lot of break.”
That was the only break Ihm needed on the day. He took care of the rest with his play.
“When Cory missed that one, I was definitely doing a little sigh. I was like, ‘OK, good.’ When he missed that shot, I was like, ‘You’ve got a three-shot lead with two to play, let’s get this one in the house,’ ” Ihm said.