Lake Forest, Ill. – Michael Castleforte, 30, of Chicago shot a 2-under 69 at the par-71 Conway Farms Golf Club to take the early lead following Saturday's morning wave at the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
Sitting one stroke behind Castleforte is Denver’s Tom Hart, 32, who carded a 1-under 70, also at Conway Farms. Joe April, 27, of Philadelphia and Dan Crockett, 44, of Nashville returned even-par 71s at Knollwood Club, the stroke-play qualifying companion course, to trail by two strokes.
The remaining 132 players in the 264-player field have afternoon starting times, including defending Mid-Amateur champion Randal Lewis and three-time champion Nathan Smith.
The 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play, with the low 64 scorers advancing to match play, which features six rounds, including a 36-hole final scheduled for Thursday beginning at 7 a.m. (CDT).
Castleforte opened with an up-and-down par save from 130 yards at the par-410th hole (his first), but followed with a birdie at the par-3 11th to gain some early momentum. Winds gusting nearly to nearly 20 mph, the only detractor to an otherwise beautiful, sunny day, played tricks with his game mid-round, and he dropped back to even par with a bogey at the par-4 fifth.
However, clutch birdies at the eighth and ninth holes, the final two of his round, ended Castleforte’s first round on a high note.
“Too many times in Mid-Am golf, it goes the other way in the end because we only play a couple tournaments a year,” said Castleforte. “It was nice to take it in the right direction.”
Castleforte, the general counsel and head of business development at United Shore Financial Services, called nearby Chicago home for nearly five years, though he recently relocated to Birmingham, Mich., a Detroit suburb. Despite his close proximity to both Conway and Knollwood, he had never stepped foot on the two properties until his Mid-Amateur practice rounds.
“In terms of USGA events, I can't remember any one where they had two great courses like this,” said Castleforte, who played in the 2008 and 2011 Mid-Amateurs and also competed in the 2000, 2003 and 2004 U.S. Amateurs. “The greens are tough, but we were fortunate. The wind kind of laid down in the morning. You had nine holes or so where you could really go after it.”
Mason Casper, 25, of Lindon, Utah, carded a 1-over 72 at Knollwood Club. Casper is the grandson of two-time U.S. Open champion Billy Casper. Among those tied with Casper at one over are two-time Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson, 53, of Germantown, Tenn., and retired Major League Baseball pitcher Erik Hanson, 47, of Kirkwood, Wash., who both played at Conway Farms.
Kenny Cook, 32, of Noblesville, Ind., the 2011 runner-up, sits four strokes back after a 2-over 73 at Conway Farms. Cook defeated Castleforte in the first round of match play at Shadow Hawk Golf Club en route to the final match.
Gary Nicklaus, 43, of Jupiter, Fla., the son of eight-time USGA champion Jack Nicklaus, struggled to a 10-over 81 at Conway Farms.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Christina Lance is a coordinator of championship communications for the USGA. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.