Richmond, Texas – Randal Lewis, 54, of Alma, Mich., will face Kenny Cook, 31, of Noblesville, Ind., in the 36-hole championship match on Thursday at the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship being contested at 7,170-yard, par-72 Shadow Hawk Golf Club.
Lewis, bidding to become the oldest winner of this championship for golfers 25 and older, defeated two-time defending champion Nathan Smith of Pittsburgh, Pa., in 19 holes to reach the final. Earlier on Wednesday, he knocked out medalist Mike McCaffrey of League City, Texas, 3 and 1.
Lewis, a financial advisor who played professionally for four weeks on a Florida mini-tour after graduating from Central Michigan in 1980, is the oldest golfer to make the championship match of the Mid-Amateur. He will look to surpass George Zahringer, who was 49 when he won in 2002, as the oldest champion.
Cook, an accountant with the Department of Defense who played professionally for seven months after graduating from Ball State University in 2003, posted a pair of victories on Wednesday to reach the final, defeating Tony Behrstock of Los Angeles, 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals and second-seeded John Engler of Augusta, Ga., 6 and 5, in the semifinals.
Ironically, the only previous time Lewis advanced to the Mid-Amateur final, he played an Indiana resident (John “Spider” Miller), losing 3 and 2 at Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford, Conn., 15 years ago. He also was a Mid-Amateur semifinalist in 1999 at Old Warson C.C. in St. Louis, losing to Jerry Courville, 1 down.
“I hope it’s not the same outcome,” said Lewis, who was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the Golf Association of Michigan’s Golfer of the Decade for the 1990s.
Lewis never trailed in the semifinal against Smith, a two-time USA Walker Cup participant (2009 and 2011) who had his Mid-Amateur consecutive-match winning streak stopped at 16. He led 2 up at the turn after holing a 5-foot birdie putt on the par-5 ninth.
But Smith kept battling, winning the par-4 15th with a birdie and then knocking a 5-iron from 197 yards to 18 feet on the par-5 closing hole, where he holed the eagle putt to force extra holes.
At the par-5 19th hole – Shadow Hawk’s first hole – Smith’s tee shot found the right rough and he laid up to 135 yards with a mid-iron. His approach from 135 yards stopped 30 feet left of the flagstick. Lewis’ second shot found the intermediate cut of rough 60 yards short of the green.
“I had that shot earlier in the tournament and I dumped in the bunker,” said Lewis. “I told my caddie that and he said I shouldn’t be thinking about that. I said I was just calibrating how much harder I have to hit it.
“I had a perfect lie. I could slide that lob wedge under it and get the elevation I needed. I knew I needed to do something special to beat him.”
The ball stopped 4 feet from the hole and when Smith’s birdie try slid by the hole, Lewis calmly stroked the ball into the hole.
“He played great and came up with a lot of great shots today,” said Smith, who was seeking an unprecedented fourth Mid-Amateur title. “That [pitch] over there … I mean he deserved it. I didn’t even know if he could hold the green out of that stuff.”
Smith was coming off a whirlwind month of golf that saw him play the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills in late August and the Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland a week before the Mid-Amateur. After a day at home, he flew to Houston last week to prepare for a third consecutive Mid-Amateur title. He will now put the clubs away for the winter and go back to his regular job as a financial advisor.
And for the first time in three years, he won’t be preparing for an April trip to Augusta (Ga.) National. The Mid-Amateur champion has traditionally received a Masters invitation since 1989.
“What do I do now?” said Smith. “It’s been a fun couple of years and they’re going to have another great champion this year. And somebody is going to be able to live the dream down there in April. I’ll be watching and rooting.”
As for playing 36 holes on Thursday, Lewis said, “My goal has been the same every day and it will be the same tomorrow. The key to match play is just being patient and not getting ahead of yourself. I’m really looking forward to it.”
In his five matches leading to the final – a total of 80 holes – Cook has only trailed for one hole. That came on the par-5 first hole in his third-round match Wednesday against Matt Smith.
He jumped out quickly in both of his matches Wednesday. Against Behrstock in the quarterfinals, he birdied the par-3 fourth hole and never looked back.
Then in the semifinals against the left-handed swinging Engler, he played 3-under-par golf on the outward nine in building a 4-up advantage. Engler, who had not gone past the 16th hole in his four previous wins, couldn’t recover and on the short par-4 13th hole, his tee shot found a hazard and the former Clemson All-American lost the hole and match.
“Obviously, I have played well,” said Cook. “I’ve hit quality golf shots, both on the tee and to the green. I’ve been comfortable out here.
“It has been a grind. But I’ve … stayed in the moment. That’s kind of been my success.”
Cook admitted he does not play much tournament golf in the summer. Because of his 40-hour-per-week job and the costs involved in traveling to events, his competition schedule is limited. He plays a lot at his home club, Sagamore, in Noblesville, but he hasn’t competed in any Indiana state competitions. The last two years he has teamed with his ex-college teammate Todd Pieri and won the Olympia Fields Four-Ball, a 36-hole event played on the North and South courses at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club.
In 2003, he qualified for the U.S. Amateur and made match play. He also played the U.S. Amateur two years ago and missed the cut. That same year, he advanced to the round of 32 at the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
This year, both he and his wife, Lisa, were medalists at their respective Mid-Amateur sectional qualifiers. Lisa failed to make match play this week at Bayville Golf Club in Virginia Beach, Va., while Kenny is now a win away from a national title.
“I’ve got a good opportunity tomorrow,” said Cook. “I just have to go out there and play golf. I just have to play the golf course and whoever I play, I play, and we’ll see what happens.”
Both the champion and runner-up are exempt into next year’s U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver and receive an exemption out of local qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
The winner receives a 10-year Mid-Amateur exemption, custody of the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy for one year, a gold medal and a likely invitation to the 2012 Masters. The runner-up gets a three-year Mid-Amateur exemption and a silver medal.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur is one of 13 championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richmond, Texas – Results from Wednesday’s quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of match play at the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur being conducted at 7,170-yard, par-72 Shadow Hawk Golf Club.
Randal Lewis, Alma, Mich. (148) def. Michael McCaffrey, League City, Texas (136), 3 and 1
Nathan Smith, Pittsburgh, Pa. (142) def. Michael Stamberger, Plainfield, N.J. (145), 2 and 1
Lower BracketJohn Engler, Augusta, Ga. (139) def. Michael Muehr, Potomac Falls, Va. (142), 3 and 2
Kenny Cook, Noblesville, Ind. (142) def. Tony Behrstock, Los Angeles, Calif. (149), 3 and 2
Randal Lewis, Alma Mich. (148) def. Nathan Smith, Pittsburgh, Pa. (140), 19 holes
Kenny Cook, Noblesville, Ind. (142) def. John Engler, Augusta, Ga. (139), 6 and 5
Richmond, Texas – Pairing and starting times for Thursday’s 36-hole championship match of the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur being conducted at 7,170-yard, par-72 Shadow Hawk Golf Club. (All times CDT):
7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. – Randal Lewis, Alma, Mich. (148) vs. Kenny Cook, Noblesville, Ind. (142)