For about an hour, 17-year-old Perry Cohen appeared to have pulled off the improbable Thursday at Centennial Golf Club.
Cohen shared the low score for 18 holes during the U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier here in Medford with a first-round 68 that was only matched by Springfield's Tyler Falk.
RECAP: Springfield's Tyler Falk birdies three of his final four holes to finish at 9-under-par 135 and edge Perry Cohen of Lajolla, Calif., for the lone automatic bid to next month's U.S. Amateur in Brookline, Mass.
OF NOTE: Former Phoenix standout Daniel Engle posted the top score among the locals, finishing in eighth place at 3-under-par 141.
With a tee time that was well ahead of Falk, Cohen then was able to quickly build his overall total to 8 under during the second 18 holes to put himself in good position to claim a bid to the U.S. Amateur in his first attempt.
Like any good golfer, the La Jolla (Calif.) High School senior-to-be waited around the clubhouse for the other scores to roll in and couldn't help but entertain the notion of advancing to the 113th Amateur Aug. 12-18 in Brookline, Mass.
"It'd be unreal," Cohen said of potentially earning the qualifier's lone automatic bid to the prestigious tournament. "No matter what happens, though, really I'm pretty stoked about my round and I can't be upset with myself — but it would mean the world if I could make it to the U.S. Amateur."
Through it all, though, Cohen couldn't help but speak of Falk and the concern that the Oregon native might be the one to come in and trump his effort.
As if by foreshadowing, that's exactly the way it played out almost an hour exactly after Cohen wrapped up his round.
The 22-year-old Falk birdied three of his final four holes to swoop in and claim his second bid to the U.S. Amateur, finishing at 9-under 135 to edge Cohen by one stroke.
"The closing was huge," said the Northwest Christian University senior-to-be. "I don't even remember it really. I was nervous and I felt like I was going to throw up, and I've never felt that way before. I don't know if it was because lack of water or food but it just hurt right here (in my stomach). Maybe it was some evil butterflies or something."
While the butterflies may have been there, Falk's game certainly didn't flutter down the stretch. He stood at 5 under for the tournament through 28 holes but dialed it up a notch to post five birdies and two pars against one bogey over his final eight holes.
Birdies at Centennial hole Nos. 6-8 — his 33rd-35th ones of the day after the second round started on the back nine — turned everything in his favor.
"That was pretty cool," said Falk, who was runner-up in the Oregon Amateur. "I've been in situations like this before. This will be my second U.S. Amateur after making it in 2011, but I've never had to do it shooting scores like this. It's been a really long eight months for me, where I've been struggling to break through, and it feels nice to finally do it."
Falk played the par-5 holes in 8 under — lamenting a missed birdie putt on his 36th hole — and avoided trouble with only four bogeys overall.
As the sectional winner, Falk will advance outright to Brookline, Mass., while runner-up Cohen is the first alternate in case other automatic qualifiers are unable to attend. Russell Nygard of Redding, Calif., finished as the second alternate with his 7 under total of 137.
Rounding out the top tier was a fourth-place tie at 6-under-par 138 that featured La Jolla's Will Strauss, Menlo Park's Kevin Knox and pre-tournament favorite Cameron Peck of Olympia, Wash.
Among the locals attempting to qualify in one of two Oregon sectionals — the other was played in Woodburn — former Phoenix High standout Daniel Engle led the charge by placing eighth at 3-under-par 141. Rogue River's Kevin Murphy, who fired a 67 during Wednesday's practice round, couldn't muster the same magic one day later and tied for 10th at even-par 144.
Other locals attempting to qualify were Medford's Alex Street (tied 13th, 146) and Will Street (tied 23rd, 152) and Central Point's Alfonso Powers (tied 16th, 147).
"I drove it good and was in position but just didn't finish it off," said the 22-year-old Engle, who recently wrapped up his junior season at Utah. "It's frustrating but I played solid, I just didn't really get it going."
The play of Falk and Cohen, among others, was applauded by Engle for such a fantastic showing at the sectional. The Oregon Golf Association set up the par-72 course that played to 7,243 yards but was forgiving around the well-watered greens.
"You want someone to go out and win it by playing well," said Engle. "You don't want to get beat by someone finishing 4 under or something, you want to have someone take it 9 deep like (Falk) did. I thought the number was going to be 6 or 7 at the start of the day, so that's pretty good shooting."
For Cohen, it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of day for him at Centennial.
"I've only put up one 68 in my life before so when I put up one more (in the first round) I was feeling pretty good about myself," he said. "I kinda continued on and just played the way I was in my first round. I wasn't trying to think too much about my score because I knew if I got in my head I would kinda get a little nervous so I just took it one shot at a time."
Falk took on that same philosophy, although he admitted to feeling on the brink of insanity down the stretch.
"I was just trying to keep a level head and not get too far ahead," he said of his two rounds. "I have a tendency to get excited so I just tried to keep my emotions as level as possible. It's just one of those things where you have to put yourself in contention to give yourself opportunities. That was the idea and I felt pretty good that I was doing that."
Those feelings turned even more emotional once Falk finally took a seat outside the clubhouse and talked about getting another shot at the U.S. Amateur.
"It means a lot," Falk said while choking back tears. "It's kinda hard to hold it back right now. There's a lot of people in my life who are really supportive of me, even though sometimes it hasn't gone the way a golfer would want them to. They've been there all the way and I can't say how much that means to me."
He especially singled out his father Jim, who was on hand for the event and helped get him on track following a less-than-stellar practice round. The duo went through a 90-minute putting contest on Wednesday, and that seemed to do the trick Thursday as Falk recorded 11 birdies and one eagle during his 36 holes.
U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier
At Centennial Golf Club
1, Tyler Falk, Springfield, 68-67—135; 2, Perry Cohen, La Jolla, Calif., 68-68—136; 3, Russell Nygard, Redding, Calif., 70-67—137; T4, Will Strauss, La Jolla, Calif., 71-67—138, and Cameron Peck, Olympia, Wash., 70-68—138, and Kevin Knox, Menlo Park, Calif., 69-69—138; 7, Conner Barr, Beaverton, 71-68—139; 8, Daniel Engle, Salt Lake City, 71-70—141; 9, Darren Whitehouse, Langley, B.C., 71-72—143; T10, Kevin Murphy, Rogue River, 73-71—144, and Nicklaus Rivera, Redding, Calif., 71-73—144.
12, Aaron Pauls, Chilliwack, B.C., 72-73—145; T13, Justin Wiles, Klamath Falls, 75-71—146, and Donald Qiu, San Diego, Calif., 72-74—146, and Alex Street, Medford, 69-77—146; T16, Jacob West, Weed, Calif., 77-70—147, and Tim Tucker, Coos Bay, 76-71—147, and Alfonso Powers, Central Point, 75-72—147; 19, Mitch Stewart, Springfield, 75-73—148; T20, Ricky Lee, Tucson, Ariz., 77-74—151, and Spencer Tibbits, Vancouver, Wash., 75-76—151, and Tommy Fruin, Eugene, 73-78—151.
T23, Will Street, Medford, 77-75—152, and Roger Eichhorn, Bend, 76-76—152, and Truett Waldon, Redding, Calif., 76-76—152; 26, Montana Frame, Reedsport, 74-79—153; 27, Ryan Kukula, Ocean Park, Wash., 79-75—154; 28, Michael Hirthler, Shavertown, Pa., 77-80—157; 29, Daniel Ludwick, Calgary, Alberta, 83-79—162.