You may remember the improbable hole-out for birdie at No. 11 – the second playoff hole – that sent hometown hero Larry Mize to a dramatic victory over Greg Norman at the 1987 Masters. Mize, who now competes on the Champions Tour, became the first Augusta, Ga., native to win at Augusta National, and it was the lone major championship among his four PGA Tour victories.
You might also recall Gary Hallberg, a four-time first-team All-American at Wake Forest University who played in the 1977 Walker Cup before joining the PGA Tour in 1980. Hallberg, a three-time Tour winner, recently shot a final-round 66 to finish second in the Senior British Open at Turnberry, two strokes behind winner Fred Couples.
But they’re not the ones being talked about this week. On Monday, their sons, Eric Hallberg and Robert Mize, will step into the national spotlight for the first time at the 2012 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver. CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora will be the companion stroke-play qualifying course for the field of 312 golfers, with all the match-play rounds contested at Cherry Hills starting on Wednesday.
The amateur duo may come from families with a strong golf pedigree, but they are just getting their feet off the ground. The Amateur will be the first USGA championship experience for both of them.
The 19-year-old Mize will be a redshirt freshman on the men’s golf team at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. Hallberg, 18, just graduated from Highlands Ranch (Colo.) High School, but he isn’t quite ready for college. “As of now, I’m taking a year off to travel while I caddie for my dad and play a lot of golf, of course, until next year when I decide [my future],” said Hallberg.
|Sons Of PGA Tour Golfers In 2012 U.S. Amateur
|Eric Hallberg (Gary Hallberg)
Michael McGowan (Pat McGowan)
Robert Mize (Larry Mize)
Gary Nicklaus (Jack Nicklaus)
Mize had a strong senior year at The Brookstone School in Columbus, Ga. In 2011, Mize captured Georgia High School Association Class A medalist honors while helping the Cougars win the team title at Green Island Country Club for the second consecutive year and 11th time in school history.
Hallberg has also seen success playing in a slew of American Junior Golf Association tournaments over the last four years, most notably finishing tied for fourth place in the AJGA Aspen (Colo.) Junior Golf Classic in June with a 222 total.
A self-proclaimed golf junkie, Hallberg has caddied for his father more than 100 times (yes, he’s counted) and he said he has learned a lot from watching the best players up close and personal.
At the Amateur, Hallberg the competitor will be drawing on his experiences as a caddie. “Caddieing [on the PGA and Champions Tours] I’ve learned how to scope out courses and play smart; play, I guess, a little bit more mature than my level. Also, just seeing how hard the USGA courses can be; you want to stay below the hole and put the ball in the right spot.”
Although Hallberg has caddied for his father in numerous championships, his father won’t be returning the favor this time around.
Unfortunately, Gary Hallberg is scheduled to play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open on the Champions Tour at En-Joie Golf Course in Endicott, N.Y., where practice rounds will overlap with the second day of stroke-play qualifying for the Amateur. Eric said that if he has a promising showing in Monday’s first round of stroke play, his father will most likely withdraw from his tournament and stay home for the week to watch his son’s first shot at a USGA title.
Gary Hallberg had success of his own at the U.S. Amateur, advancing to the quarterfinals in 1979 (lost to defending champion John Cook, 4 and 3), the same year he won the NCAA Division I title and the prestigious North and South Amateur at Pinehurst.
Instead, Eric Hallberg’s friend, Brendan Connolly, will be on the bag to offer some advice from his own attempts at USGA championships. “[Connolly] actually missed the qualifier [for this year’s Amateur] by one shot, but he’s a pretty good player and he has caddied at Cherry Hills for a few years now so he knows the course,” said Hallberg.
Mize’s father might caddie for him in the practice rounds but he is unsure whether or not he will use a caddie once stroke-play qualifying begins on Monday.
Mize views his father as an invaluable resource to his own game, even if – in typical father-son fashion – they don’t always see eye-to-eye. “He’s been great growing up. We’re a whole lot alike and both very Type-A people so we kind of butt heads a little on the golf course. Growing up, my dad was obviously more mature, but realizing that he knew more than I do was kind of hard for me to get through my head.
“I don’t even know how to describe it but it’s just been great having someone as experienced as him to talk to. It really is great; I can call him up whenever and he has great advice because he’s been there,” said Mize.
One would think that playing the game in the shadow of a famous father might be nerve-wracking, but not for these sons. “It’s something that’s there, sure, but all pressure is self-inflicted,” said Robert Mize. “My dad is great, he never puts any pressure on me, he just tells me to go do my best and he’s always proud of how I play.”
Eric Hallberg added: “Over the years I’ve had a little bit of pressure like that but now I just think it’s kind of wearing off. I haven’t played as well as I wanted to play but now I’m starting to play really well again. I think, if anything, it helps me to play harder than I should.”
Hallberg and Mize shared the same goal coming into their respective qualifying sites, simply to make the field for the first time. Rounds of 72-67 at The Country Club of Colorado in Colorado Springs put Hallberg in the third spot at 139. Mize, meanwhile, claimed the fourth spot at The Brickyard at Riverside in Macon, Ga., with a 141 total (72-69).
“It was a really up-and-down day. I made a lot of birdies and a lot of bogeys, too. But fortunately it turned out to be a great day, I found out how to get it done and just tried to stay focused and play my way and I got the last spot,” said Hallberg.
The 2012 U.S. Amateur will be a memorable experience for Hallberg, not only because it is his first time on the big stage, but also because it is being conducted virtually in his backyard. A native of Castle Rock, a Denver suburb, Hallberg will be playing in front of a home crowd, an opportunity that can be a blessing or a curse.
Hallberg is hoping it won’t be a distraction and the added support will fuel his game. “I just want to make it to the round of 64 and play my hardest on every shot and try my best. Then, whatever happens, happens.”
After caddieing in multiple USGA championships, Hallberg knows what to look for at Cherry Hills, site of three U.S. Opens, the 1990 U.S. Amateur, the 1993 U.S. Senior Open and the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open. “I’ll probably have to keep the ball short of the hole; the greens are going to be pretty fast,” said Hallberg.
Keeping levelheaded will be the key for Mize this week. “I don’t have too many expectations; I try to keep that under control and not let that get up there too high,” said Mize.
But in the next breath, with newfound confidence after qualifying, Mize changed his tune and raised the bar even higher. “Although I am there to win, that’s the ultimate goal. I want to have a good showing and keep my emotions and everything else under control and just play golf like I know how to play and the results will happen if I just do that.”
If either golfer wins – or even reaches the 36-hole final – they will accomplish something even their fathers never did.
That’s not a bad way to create your own legacy in the game.
Kelly O’Shea is a communications intern for the USGA. Email her at email@example.com.