Crimson Callahan remembered his first exposure to the Old Warson Cup and wanted a chance someday to play it.
“Back when I was younger around 13 or 14, I watched a good friend of mine Kyle Weldon play in this event,” Callahan said. “He was in the semifinals and they had scoreboards following him at the time and, as a kid, I thought it was the coolest thing. To get the invite and play in this event meant a lot and I was beyond excited. It is a very special event to get to play in.”
Callahan, a Chesterfield native, scored on the biggest wins in his golf career by defeating Drew Pranger, the defending Old Warson Cup champion and reigning Player of the Year, in 19 holes to begin his 2019 tournament season.
“Man, after all the obstacles I had to endure and overcome this spring semester, this victory felt so freaking good,” Callahan said. “I was elated and couldn’t be prouder of my mental game throughout the entire tournament.
“Any win you get at this stage is important. It’s much more than a win. You gain the confidence required to compete in this game and you believe in the process and steps that you’re taking to get better.”
The Old Warson Cup championship one of the premier amateur events.
Callahan, who went to Chaminade, is a sophomore at Western Kentucky. He plans to transfer after the school year but has not chosen a new school yet.
“The spring semester was a struggle. There were a lot of internal issues going on within the program and the new head coach at Western Kentucky, and mentally I could not get in the right place to play my best golf,” Callahan said. “After entering the transfer portal, mentally I felt a ginormous weight off my shoulders and I felt free to play golf the way I know how to.”
Despite that, Callahan said he felt good coming into the Old Warson Cup.
“Surprisingly enough, even after struggling throughout the spring semester, I knew my game was in good shape,” Callahan said. “I had qualified for tournaments back in the spring and played solid in qualifying just wasn’t ever picked to go to the events but I felt really solid about how I was preparing for the tournament and felt confident after all the work I have put in.”
The course is one of his favorites.
“I played Old Warson in 2018 in the US Open Qualifier and, besides a triple on No. 8, I played that course really well,” Callahan said. “I absolutely love the members, employees, and everything to do with Old Warson. The golf course is bar none one of the best in St. Louis and the superintendent did an absolute incredible job after all the rain they received.
“It also really helps that I happen to work and caddy out there,” Callahan added with a laugh.
Callahan opened Cup play against Buddy Allen. He won in 20 holes.
“I have never played Buddy before, but he is a heck of a player for how far he hits it and is even a better guy to get to walk with,” Callahan said. “Really has a mindset that I would love to try and emulate. After the match, he actually contacted me and gave me some advice which I took to the US Open qualifier and ended up qualifying for. I look forward to playing many more holes with him.
“(It was a) Grueling match for sure. Luckily, it was my first match and I was pretty healthy. I did not play my best in any sense of the word, but I mentally stayed in it and made some clutch shots in the end.”
In the quarterfinals, Callahan faced Alex Cusumano. He won 4 & 3.
“Alex did not play his best,” Callahan said. “He is a heck of a player and his putter just let him down. I was able to take advantage with birdies on the par-5 6th and the par-5 12th. After he went in the water on the 12th and I made the birdie, I had a lot of confidence and felt he was on the ropes.”
Callahan played Chad Niezing in semifinals. He ended winning 1 up.
“Probably my toughest match mentally,” Callahan said. “Chad did an awesome job of battling it out all 18 holes. Going up 3 early and having him come back to actually have me one down with 2 to play was in hindsight, a huge learning experience and benefit for me in the long run.
“I experienced going up big, letting the lead slip, losing the lead, and being down late in the match. This match really helped me mentally later on in the final match.”
That set up the championship against Pranger. Last summer, Pranger beat Callahan by a stroke in the Metro Amateur at St. Albans.
“I don’t know crazy much about him but I knew he was a heck of a player,” Callahan said. “Getting to walk with him for 19 holes was a pleasure and he garnered a heck of a lot of respect from me. Great player and a great guy.”
In a wild final match, Callahan found himself 3up going to the 12th tee and seemingly in control after a close front 9. However, the veteran Pranger immediately answered back with wins on Nos. 12 and 13. Callahan won No. 15 to go 2 Up.
“Going into 16 2 up, I felt in the drivers seat,” Callahan said.
He carried that lead into the par 3 17th hole needing a halve to claim victory.
Pranger, who’s short game was on point, got up and down for par from the greenside bunker to win 17 and send the match to the closing hole.
“On 17, Drew made a heck of an up and down from the front left bunker and with a bad lie in the rough and I was unable to do the same,” Callahan said. “Going 1 up into 18, I felt again in control of the match and the loss on 17 was not an issue to me.”
Pranger found the fairway while Callahan the right rough. Playing first, Pranger came up short of the putting green, while Callahan caught a flyer and was back left just off the putting green with the customary Sunday front right hole location looming.
Pranger was out and about 36 yards from the flagstick. He pitched up, his ball took one big bounce, skipped and the next bounce slammed into the flagstick and dropped in the hole for an improbable birdie.
“The shot was the shot of the tournament, and something I did not see coming,” Callahan said. “Drew, from 40 yards out, hit his chip shot pretty thin and it took one bounce, was about to go roll off the green, but then clank. It hits the flagstick and goes in for a birdie 3. I couldn’t believe it.
“My club dropped to the ground along with the jaws of many others. I gathered myself, hit a good chip, but wasn’t able to get it to drop. “
So the match continued with the players going to No. 1.
Both players found the fairway on 1. Callahan would find the putting surface, while Pranger was left of the green in the bunker with a difficult bunker shot to the front left hole. Pranger was left with a right to left slider of a putt for par which just slid by and Callahan rolled in a 3 footer for par and the championship.
“I was pretty amped up going into the tee shot on 1, which was our 19th hole. I kid you not, carried it 327 yards and had about 72 yards into the hole, which was a huge advantage,” Callahan said. “After watching him put it into the front left bunker, I knew an up and down from there was highly unlikely. I threw my wedge shot safely 20 feet just past and right of the pin that was tucked away to the left.
“Drew put his bunker shot to about 17 feet and I knocked my first putt to about 3 feet. He missed his par putt and I just knocked in my short par putt for the victory.”
It’s a match that had everything and Callahan said it’s a big one for him.
“This match was an absolute roller coaster. After the match with Chad, I was mentally drained and honestly physically wore out,” Callahan said. “I let the foot off the gas pedal for the first four or five holes in the final match and it cost me.
“I had to mentally gather myself and redefine what winning was to me. Had to remind myself how bad I wanted this victory. A lot of outside issues fueled my want to win this tournament.”
Callahan said he had many people help him.
“My caddy, Jackson Workman, man I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your time in caddying me when you could,” Callahan said. “You did an absolute heck of a job and I really look forward to this summer with you on the bag. My dad (Todd) did great filling in for Jackson and we won this thing together. Me and you Pops, always.”
He had fans out there watching him.
“My entire support group and family walked a number of holes to watch me. Not many people in the golf world have the incredible support group that I am lucky enough to have,” Callahan said. “Grandma Kathy walked 91 holes (including US Open Qualifier the next day) with me. I cannot explain to you how special that is.”
Callahan said his late Western Kentucky coach was a big influence for him.
“Philip Hatchett, although you’re not with us physically anymore, I promise you I feel your presence with every wedge I hit, every ‘committed target’ I have, and every “go get what you want” moment,” Callahan said. “I wouldn’t be the golfer and person I am without your influence and guidance in the years we had together. I’m forever playing for you coach.”