Make some room, Tom Pierce. Drake Hull is calling.
Hull played an impressive, bogey-free round of 4-under 66 to come from two shots back in the final round and claim in his third straight Vermont Amateur at Rutland Country Club on Thursday. He joined Pierce, Rutland's most celebrated member, with three straight Vermont Amateur championships.
Pierce, the seven-time Am winner, won three in a row from 1938-1940 and was the only Rutland member ever to do that.
"That's unbelievable. I don't even know what to say about that," said Hull.
But it speaks for itself, particularly the way Hull won it. He hit 15 greens and an apron in the last round and made literally every putt he had to make, including a variety of par-savers from 6 to 12 feet.
Even when Hull fell two shots back early in the round he wasn't stressed. He remained patient, pounced on Richards' bogeys and flung four birdies at the Country Club of Barre dynamo, who made three of his own but couldn't completely pull his foot free of bogey. Hull faced down a handful of testing par-savers and just waved the bogey train by.
Hull had two 66s this week for the tournament's two lowest scores.
He seized the lead on the front nine, fattened it to two shots with a birdie on 10 and never trailed again. Even though Richards finished tied for second, five back of Hull's pace, it was a horse race until Richards found the hazard with his approach on 17 and made a double, and Hull stuck a wedge 2 feet below the hole to set up his final birdie.
"I led him by a couple on the front nine but if he turns it into a wedge contest he's tough to beat," said Richards, who will be facing Hull's UConn team next season as a member of the University of Rhode Island team. "He just lays up to a distance he likes.
"I wanted to win and I put myself in a position to win. I didn't throw it away. Drake hit just one bad shot all day."
Hull shot rounds of par 70 and 66 to arrive at 5-under 275. Richards posted 68 and 72 for a 281 total, tied with Jacob Zaranek of Brattleboro (68-70), with Quechee's Pat Pelletier (71-72) at 284 and Rutland's Jared Nelson (75-68) and Mountain View's Phil Fairbanks (68-71) at 285.
The one bad shot Hull hit was a long approach from the rough on the par-5 fourth in the morning round. He tried to draw the ball but it flared into the treeline bordering the hole and he eventually took double bogey. When he bogeyed the fifth his three-shot lead was gone and at the end of the morning Hull and Richards were deadlocked at 1-under par for the tournament.
Both had to sit through two weather delays before play began in their afternoon round, with the forecast of thundershowers threatening to turn the Am into a 54-hole event. But the storms stayed away. A light rain fell almost throughout the back nine but it never rained heavily until Hull was standing over his birdie putt on the 18th.
Hull said he was at his calmest during the final round and seemed to have far less stress than his parents, Troy and Ellie, who walked all 36 holes.
"It was a different feeling for me," Hull said. "I was shockingly calm all day. I kept telling Benson (his caddie) that the word was poise.
"This afternoon Bryson forced me to shoot the score I shot."
Richards seized the lead on the second hole with a 15-foot birdie putt. Hull, whose chip from the rough fell just short of the green, made a longer putt from the apron to save par and minimize the damage.
Richards made birdie on the fourth to lead by two but it was very short-lived; his uphill chip on par-3 No. 5 fell far short of the cup and he missed his par putt, while Hull tapped in a 7-foot par-saver from below the hole.
But it was the tee shot on the 205-yard hole that energized Hull's game.
"I hadn't hit that green all week and I hit a really good shot," he said.
From that point forward Hull was truly the force Rutlanders are used to seeing. No. 6 had a sucker pin next to two left-side bunkers but Hull went right at it, setting up a 10-footer he drained to pull into a tie. When his tee ball found the rough on No. 8 he hit an approach over a towering pine and logged another green in regulation. When Richards hit the rough and a bunker and made bogey Hull took over the lead.
On 10, Hull made a 7-footer with a big curl for birdie and a two-shot lead. He never gave back anything all the way back to the clubhouse.
Both players were all over the hole throughout the round, often burning edges and coming up a half-revolution short. Hull just had more success. He avoided a two-shot swing on 13, where the wet rough above the hole and just past the apron captured his ball. While Richards made a terrific swing with a wedge to set up his 2-footer, Hull trundled his first effort down the hill and calmly made a 6-foot comebacker.
He made birdie on 15 from 6 feet to swell his lead to two shots after Richards' birdie effort from above the ball fell just short. Richards had another good chance on 16 but saw his 9-footer drift away to the right, while Hull rolled his long birdie putt past the hole but made the 7-foot comebacker.
The twosome had a group of followers, mostly Rutland members, that swelled to more than 50, and Hull praised them. "They were willing putts into the hole," he said.
... And willing Hull to victory and his place in the Vermont Golf Association record books.
The last player to win three straight Ams was St. Johnsbury's Trevor Murphy from 2005-2007 and Hull tipped his hat to St. Johnsbury star.
Hull won his first two Ams at Dorset and the Country Club of Vermont but will treasure this week's wire-to-wire win above all.
"This is my favorite (Amateur) by far," he said. "Here at Rutland."