After tough senior season, Vandy's Harrison Ott feeling good again at U.S. Amateur

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OAKMONT, Pa. – As Harrison Ott waited out a nearly four-hour weather delay Tuesday afternoon inside Oakmont’s clubhouse, his phone kept buzzing. It was his Vanderbilt team group chat.

Ott never unlocked his screen, but he did see a few messages illuminate briefly.

Good playing, Cole!

Nice round, Gordon!

“I told my caddie that I didn’t want to know where I stood or where anyone stood,” Ott explained.

Two weeks earlier, Ott opened the Western Amateur in 68, but he got too caught up in the leaderboard and ended up missing the 36-hole cut.

“So, I wanted to do the complete opposite this week,” he said.

Ott opened this week’s U.S. Amateur with an even-par 70. Other than two bad holes, which he played in 5 over, Ott was pleased with how he played. Looking back, he was glad he didn’t take a peek and see Jacob Bridgeman’s opening 63 on the same course.

“I knew the leaderboard would probably make me a little more disappointed than I should’ve been,” Ott said, “so I kind of just made the decision, you know, to live in my world.”

A day later, Ott stood on the ninth tee at Oakmont, his final hole of stroke play, at 2 over, having just made a sloppy bogey at the lengthy par-3 eighth. He had a feeling he needed to make birdie, but he didn’t know for sure, so he decided to make sure he found the fairway and hit the green, and then he’d see what happens.

After he poured in a 35-footer for birdie to get in the house at 2 over, Ott gave a hard fist pump and let out a yell.

While the second round will need to be finished on Wednesday morning, Ott can rest easy whether he looks at the leaderboard or not; he’s likely done enough to advance to match play for the second straight U.S. Amateur after reaching the Round of 16 at Bandon Dunes.

For Ott, this time will be much sweeter. Just a few months ago, making the cut at this championship would’ve seemed like an impossible task. Ott had struggled mightily with his game, mainly off the tee, starting with the very first tournament of the fall. He lost nearly all confidence with the driver. His results last season for the Commodores looked more like a numerical defensive roster for Vandy’s football team – 67, 31, 38, 46, 74, 65 – and the past All-American was left off both NCAA regional and championship lineups.

“It was just tough to keep telling myself that I was getting better,” Ott said. “Watching golf is way tougher than playing golf, and then add in that you want to be competing so bad, it sucks.”

Making matters worse: After SECs, Ott was just three days away from being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 when he was contact-traced and had to quarantine. Add a minor procedure on the back end of that and he was in his room for 21 straight days.

Vanderbilt head coach Scott Limbaugh gives Ott credit, though: his senior, who will return for an extra season this fall, never gave up.

“Playing time got taken away from him … and he certainly didn’t love it just like any competitor doesn’t,” Limbaugh said, “but he handled it the way a man handles things.”

And Ott’s resiliency has started to show this summer. The results haven’t quite been there: his best finish in four tournaments is T-27 at the Northeast. But mentally, he’s in a much better place.

“I knew I was taking steps in the right direction this summer and just hadn’t played a complete tournament or a tournament where I left feeling good about it,” Ott said.

He felt pretty good leaving Oakmont on Tuesday evening.