DALLAS – Michael Cotton from Katy torched the back nine of Bent Tree Country Club with a sizzling 7-under-par 29 to rip away the 106th Texas Amateur from a host of worthy contenders.
Cotton finished the weather-shortened championship at 9-under 204 overall, three shots clear of his friend and frequent playing companion Preston Stanley, also from Katy.
“I’m kind of a streaky player,” said Cotton in the understatement of the year. “I’ve been putting well all week, but nothing was going in. I got one to drop, got hot and they all started falling.”
Cotton, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of North Texas, began the final round two shots behind leader Grant Bennett from Lewisville. With his father Steve caddying for him on Father’s Day, Cotton opened with four bogeys on his first eight holes.
With slumped shoulders and his head down, Cotton felt the tournament slipping away from him. That’s when his dad stepped in – as any good caddy would – and offered encouragement.
“My dad just told me, ‘I still believe and you need to, too,’” Cotton said.
The words, few in number but ever-so impactful, gave Cotton a jolt of energy. He stood tall again, took a few deep breaths and started his round over in his mind.
What happened next will go down in Texas Amateur lore as one of the best 10-hole stretches in the 106-year history of the most prestigious amateur tournament in the state. Cotton birdied No. 9 and the floodgates opened.
Two more birdies on the 10th and 11th holes. A jaw-dropping eagle on No. 13. Then more birdies coming in on Nos. 15 and 16. Meanwhile, Stanley put together a string of six birdies against three bogeys and posted a final round 3-under 68. It wasn’t enough. Bennett lost control of his driver and faltered with a 2-over 73. With the championship in hand, Cotton brought it home in style, pouring in a 5-footer for one last birdie.
He played the final 10 holes at 8-under.
“I played pretty well today, just ran into a buzz saw on the back nine,” said Stanley, a junior at Houston Baptist. “The guy shot 29 on the back. What are you going to do? He’s a great player and I’m happy for him.”
Cotton, who plays out of Memorial Park Golf Course in Houston, was understated in his comments moments after the championship. Perhaps he was in shock. Twenty-nines on the final nine holes of major amateur championships don’t just fall out of the sky.
“It feels good to win this championship,” he said. “It gives me a lot of confidence going into the rest of summer.”
In his acceptance speech, Cotton began with the two most important people in his life: his father Steve and mother Deanna. While dad toted the bag, mom followed along step for step, jotting down stats and keeping notes.
“He had 11 putts on the final nine,” Deanna said. “Twenty-seven for the round.”
For his part, Steve said his son’s victory was the best Father’s Day present he could have imagined. A high-handicapper himself who only plays the occasional weekend round, Steve said his job was to hold the bag, keep the clubs clean and offer a little encouragement here and there.
It was the last of those duties that turned the tide and reversed his son’s fate.
“I’m just really proud of him,” Steve Cotton said. “He’s always played well, but to see him break through and win the Texas Amateur is really, really special.”
During the torrid, 10-hole streak, Cotton made more than 50 feet in birdies. And that’s not including the 12-foot eagle he poured in on No. 13.
Last year’s Texas Amateur champion Will Zalatoris, a member of Bent Tree, was on hand to witness Cotton’s scorching performance. Zalatoris unfortunately was unable to play in the championship because he was still recovering emergency appendectomy surgery in late May.
Zalatoris, who went on to win the Trans-Mississippi Amateur and U.S. Junior Championship last summer after his Texas Amateur title, said he shot an 9-under 27 on the back nine at Bent Tree a few days before his medical emergency.
“It’s one thing to do that when you’re out messing around,” Zalatoris said. “But for Michael to do it under pressure and on the final nine holes of this great championship, that’s really impressive.”