Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Mike Schoolcraft can’t tell you exactly how many rounds he’s played at Cherry Hills Country Club since his family became members a decade ago.
“It’s more than a thousand,” says the Englewood, Colo., resident, who is one of two Cherry Hills members competing in the 2012 U.S. Amateur this week.
Even with that local knowledge, the 20-year-old University of Oklahoma junior is seeing completely different conditions on his home course: firmer and faster fairways, quicker greens and thicker rough.
“When we come out here and play, it’s usually soft,” said Schoolcraft, who has played Cherry Hills many times with good friend and fellow member Matt Schovee, a 22-year-old who recently completed his eligibility at Southern Methodist University and is also in the 312-player field. “And the rough isn’t up. We’re hitting a lot of shorter clubs – 2- and 3-irons – off the tee. There’s a couple of holes we’ll be able to be a little more aggressive because we know the course.”
Added Schovee, who opened his first USGA championship with a 2-over-par 73 at Cherry Hills on Monday: “I haven’t played in these conditions ever.”
Of course, one of the biggest adjustments for the field this week is the altitude. Denver sits roughly a mile above sea level and the ball travels farther in the thinner air. Adjustments – typically about 10 percent – must be made in terms of distance at both Cherry Hills and CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, the companion course for the two stroke-play qualifying rounds.
It’s a question both Schovee and Schoolcraft have gotten from fellow competitors.
“It’s all about your ball flight. Sometimes it can go up to 15 percent,” said Schoolcraft, who opened the championship on Monday afternoon at CommonGround, a 4-year-old Tom Doak design owned and operated by the Colorado Golf Association and the Colorado Women’s Golf Association.
Both players are receiving plenty of local support this week.
About 50 friends and family members followed Schovee Monday morning at Cherry Hills. When he got up and down for par from greenside rough at the seventh hole, he received a loud ovation. Unfortunately, he closed his round with bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9, holes that Schovee said are two of the hardest on the William Flynn design.
Schovee, who expects to graduate next spring, said he isn’t bothered by the distractions of playing at home. Neither is Schoolcraft, who opened with a 1-under 69 at CommonGround Golf Course in nearby Aurora.
A summer internship at a Denver investment bank has limited Schovee’s competitive golf since school concluded in May, but in the past week he’s had more time to prepare for the Amateur, a championship well known within SMU circles. Three of the last 15 champions have been Mustangs, including 2011 winner Kelly Kraft at Erin Hills. Ironically, the three SMU winners all have last names that begin with “K” – Kraft, Hank Kuehne (1998) and Colt Knost (2007). However, the most famous USGA champion from SMU is a guy whose last name starts with “S”: the late Payne Stewart, a two-time U.S. Open champion (1991 and 1999). Schovee is good friends with Stewart’s son, Aaron, who was among the members of the team who flew up to Erin Hills last August to support Kraft, who defeated World No. 1 amateur Patrick Cantlay in the final.
“We were all so happy for Kelly last year,” said Schovee. “It was really special.”
Kraft contacted Schovee this week to wish him well. As for advice, Schovee said Kraft told him to “just go win the thing.”
Making the cut and playing match-play rounds in front of the members at Cherry Hills is Schovee’s current goal.
“It’s great to have everyone out here,” said Schovee. “It’s been absolutely incredible. I love the golf course and to have all these incredible supporters out here makes it so special.”
Schoolcraft had this championship circled for more than a year, and he took a 90-minute flight to Sioux Falls, S.D., to play in a July 30 sectional qualifier at Baker Crossing, repeating his procedure from three years ago, when he qualified there for the U.S. Junior Amateur at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J.
With only 25 golfers competing for one spot in this week’s field, Schoolcraft emerged with the berth, validating his decision to qualify away from home.
“It all worked out,” he said. “I felt comfortable with the course.”
Schoolcraft once had aspirations of playing college hockey and he attended a prep school in northwest Connecticut (Salisbury) to improve his chances of a Division I scholarship. But when he broke his collarbone for a third time, his competitive hockey days ended and he turned to golf. He transferred home to Valor Christian High School, where he was part of the first graduating class in 2010. Oklahoma lured him to play golf, but he still gets out and skates with friends. The OU golf coach, however, forbids him to play on the school’s club hockey team.
“I still miss it,” said Schoolcraft of hockey. “But I don’t mind playing golf. I love it [and] hockey will beat you up.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.