Lake Forest, Ill. – Kevin Marsh is still undefeated at Conway Farms … for now.
His first-round, 1-up victory over Dan Horner on Monday at the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur left Marsh 30-0 on the course, but just 1-0 as a player.
Back in 1997, Marsh, just five months removed from earning his degree at Pepperdine University, was thrust into the role of emergency coach for the NCAA Division I Championship at Conway Farms.
Waves coach John Geiberger had contracted chickenpox and was quarantined to his hotel room. So somebody needed to coach the team and provide advice.
Enter Marsh, who happened to be in Illinois for an upcoming Hooters Tour event.
He and some friends – the group included future PGA Tour player and ex-University of Nevada-Las Vegas standout Chris Riley – ventured to the suburban Chicago venue to support their respective schools.
Pepperdine had just snuck into the field two weeks earlier by finishing ninth at regionals. But that week at Conway Farms, everything clicked. Behind All-American Jason Gore, the Waves won the national championship, their only tournament victory of that season.
“I went 29-0,” said Marsh laughing. “I have beaten every team that I have ever coached against.”
Pepperdine even gave Marsh a national championship ring, and he retired as an undefeated coach.
But Conway Farms still holds a special place in his heart.
Ever since the Tom Fazio design was awarded the championship, Marsh has been excited about a return trip. Exempt into the Mid-Amateur through 2015 by virtue of his 2005 victory at The Honors Course in suburban Chattanooga, Tenn., the Henderson, Nev., resident has known for a couple of years he was going to be competing in suburban Chicago.
“It seems a lot longer,” said Marsh, trying to recall the layout after shooting a 1-under 70 at Conway on Sunday to get himself into the match-play bracket. “But I am not good at remembering what I did yesterday let alone 15 years ago. Plus, I didn’t get to play it.”
On Monday, Marsh simply survived the course and Horner. Saying it was one of his worst putting performances, the 2012 California Amateur champion overcame his woes on the greens to earn a second-round match Tuesday against Michael Muehr.
“I was lucky to get through the match,” said Marsh.
Marsh went 1 down after missing a 5-foot par putt at 16. He thought that might cost him the match, but Horner failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker at 17. At the par-5 closing hole, Marsh managed to reach the green in two and holed a 5-foot birdie putt for the win.
And keep himself perfect at Conway Farms.
Rhode Island natives Charlie Blanchard and Brad Valois have played hundreds of rounds together and were one-time finalists in the Rhode Island State Amateur, with Valois winning.
Blanchard said Valois is 2-0 against him head to head.
He’ll get a chance to avenge those defeats on Tuesday at Conway Farms when the two face each other in the round of 32. Blanchard set up the match by rallying from three holes down with five to play to defeat Dan Crockett, of Nashville, Tenn., in 19 holes. Valois, the stroke-play medalist, hung on for a 2-and-1 win over Kevin Wolf.
“We didn’t need to fly 1,500 miles to have this match,” said the 47-year-old Blanchard, who lives in North Providence.
Not only are Blanchard and Valois from the same state, but they are also left-handers. They will also team up next week – with Robert Leopold – at the USGA Men’s State Team Championship at Galloway National Golf Club in New Jersey.
Needless to say, neither will require a scouting report.
“You kind of know what you are up against,” said Blanchard, who is entering his second season as the men’s golf coach at Bryant University. “Like today, you are up against the unknown. You don’t know what type of player he is [or] how he plays under pressure. I know Brad. I’m familiar with his game. I know he will be hitting it further than [me].”
Valois, a 25-year-old from Warwick who made match play at last month’s U.S. Amateur, certainly will have a distance advantage, but Blanchard hopes his experience pays dividends.
That patience was vital in the comeback against Crockett. He recorded a two-putt birdie at the par-5 15th hole for a win and then won the par-5 18th with an 8-foot birdie to send the match to extra holes. On the 19th hole, the par-4 first, he converted a breaking 4-footer for par to win.
“Hopefully I’m a little wiser,” said Blanchard, who spent seven years playing professional lacrosse for the Boston Blazers in the National Lacrosse League. “Hopefully I can play smart and put a little pressure on him.”
Added Valois: “It will be kind of weird considering we flew all the way out here together just to play each other. I think it will be a great match.”
Odds and Ends
Fourteen of the 32 first-round matches went at least 18 holes, with five going to extra holes … The longest match of the day saw Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links caddie Casey Boyns outlast 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Tim Hogarth in 23 holes … Boyns wasn’t the only full-time caddie to advance. Corby Segal, who carries for PGA Tour player Briny Baird, defeated Danny Simmerman, 1 up … Knollwood Club head professional Wade Gurysh was on the property Monday to watch Matthew Mattare. Mattare grew up at Saucon Valley C.C. in Bethlehem, Pa., the venue where Gurysh served as an assistant pro before coming to Knollwood. Knollwood was the companion stroke-play qualifying course for this week’s Mid-Amateur. It hosted the 1956 U.S. Amateur and 1982 U.S. Mid-Amateur … Former Major League Baseball pitcher Erik Hanson was eliminated by Kevin Wassmer, 2 up. Hanson has been hampered by lower back pain and was competing for the first time in several months.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.