BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A modern-day Eddie Lowery story was brewing at the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur this week, starring 12-year-old Country Club of Birmingham member Johnny Nathan.
Lowery, of course, became famous 100 years ago when he skipped school to caddie for Francis Ouimet at the U.S. Open, where the unheralded 20-year-old amateur stunned the golf world by beating English stalwarts Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Lowery was only 10 years old and barely towered above Ouimet’s golf bag.
Nathan, a sixth-grader at nearby Mountain Creek Elementary School, didn’t hoof a bag, but pushed the cart for 46-year-old Dan Sullivan, of Pasadena, Calif., who made a dramatic run to the Round of 16. Earlier on Tuesday, Sullivan rallied to defeat former big-league pitcher Erik Hanson, of Kirkland, Wash., in 19 holes, winning the last three of the match after Hanson was dormie-2.
Alas, Nathan didn’t have a Lowery-like finish, as Sullivan fell in the third round to Bradley Bastion, of Clinton Township, Mich., 1 down, on Tuesday afternoon.
“He now has to go back to school,” said Sullivan. “He’s probably a little bit more disappointed than I am. He made a good week much, much better. It was a lot of fun having him there. I made him work pretty hard going 36 (actually 37) holes today.”
Sullivan was a house guest of Nathan’s parents and when they saw he didn’t have a caddie, young Johnny volunteered. He is a golfer, but plays on the shorter East Course, which was used as the companion layout for stroke-play qualifying. Once Sullivan made match play, Johnny got his parents’ permission to take a few days off.
“That kid is going to have a memory that will last 50 years,” said Hanson. “When we shook hands, [he was so excited], his eyes almost came out of his head.”
Sullivan said Nathan kept him relaxed the entire time. When he played the East Course in qualifying, Nathan even provided some tips.
“He’s a good kid and knows the game,” said Sullivan. “It was fun asking him about his school work. He didn’t tell me about any of his girlfriends.”
Nathan was asked if he had ever heard of Ouimet or Lowery.
“There’s a movie about him right?” said Nathan, referring to the Greatest Game Ever Played.
Sullivan, the 2012 Southern California Golf Association Public Links champion, added that he’s looking forward to watching Nathan progress in school and golf.
“Hopefully I’ll caddie for him in one of these [USGA championships] one day,” said Sullivan.
Back In Play
Ken Tanigawa is a lot happier playing golf these days. He no longer has to worry about a 5-foot putt deciding his paycheck.
“Golf’s the same,” said Tanigawa, who advanced to the quarterfinals in his first Mid-Amateur appearance. “You still try hard, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter [as an amateur]. It’s fun. It’s OK. In that sense, it makes it easy.”
Tanigawa competed professionally for nearly 14 years, including six on the Japan Golf Tour. The 45-year-old Phoenix resident was born in Japan and knew the language and the culture, so after he graduated from UCLA in 1990 he decided to play professionally in his native country. He later moved back to the U.S. and played one year on the Nationwide Tour and bounced around other mini-tour circuits. He made three PGA Tour starts – in 2000, 2001 and 2002 – but missed the cut in all of them. By 2003, he had moved to Phoenix and had enough of the professional game.
“It was a combination of not playing as well as I should have, kids and family,” said Tanigawa, who was redshirted the year UCLA won the NCAA title (1988) at North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, Calif. “I didn’t want it enough.”
Tanigawa and his brother now own a Japan-based manufacturing company that produces private labels for major department stores. Last year, he regained his amateur status and the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur is his first USGA championship since the 1989 U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club. He also played in two U.S. Juniors (1983 and ‘84) and the 1985 U.S. Amateur, without much success.
This year, though, his game has rounded into form. He tied for fourth at the Arizona Stroke Play at the TPC Scottsdale and shared third at the Arizona Mid-Amateur at the Country Club of D.C. Ranch. At the recent Goldwater Cup, a match-play event featuring Arizona’s top amateurs against the club pros, Tanigawa won all three matches at Phoenix Country Club.
Tanigawa also plays out of Whisper Rock, a private facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., where many PGA Tours are members. He has teed it up with 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and Bryce Molder.
“They have to give me strokes,” he said.
If anything, that competition prepared Tanigawa for the Mid-Amateur. In Tuesday’s second round, he eliminated Scott Harvey, 1 up, and then toppled Keith Humerickhouse, 4 and 3, to reach the quarterfinals, and an exemption into the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
“It’s exciting,” said Tanigawa. “If you can avoid a [sectional] qualifier, that’s good. It’s hard to qualify for this event.”
When 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion and 2010 Mid-Amateur runner-up Tim Hogarth became ill Tuesday, it made Bill Williamson’s morning a short one. Hogarth, who believes he had a case of food poisoning, was visibly pale as he stepped to the first tee for his second-round match. He played 3½ holes before deciding to concede to Williamson, who was 3 up at the time.
Well-rested from his unexpectedly quick victory, Williamson ousted Joseph Saladino, 5 and 4, in the third round.
So while competitors such as Dan Sullivan were playing as many as 37 holes on Tuesday, Williamson needed just 17. In Monday’s first round, Williamson only went 14 holes in his 6-and-4 win over John Rudolph.
“It helped me more mentally than physically,” said Williamson, 36, of Cincinnati. “Walking 36 holes is OK physically. Mentally, it’s a grind.”
Once Hogarth conceded, Williamson asked USGA officials if it was OK to continue scouting the course. Permitted to do so under the Rules, Williamson walked the next nine holes before coming back to the clubhouse for lunch.
“I went and looked at the hole locations,” said Williamson. “I hit a few putts. I did it until about 13. I didn’t want to walk up that hill. I thought it was an advantage to be fresh.”
Williamson, an attorney, does stay in top condition by running half-marathons with his wife. He’s completed “about four” in the past few years.
Of course, the best news of the day came after his win over Saladino, knowing he had a guaranteed spot into next year’s Mid-Amateur at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.
“I told my dad, the second-best word in golf other than champion is exemption,” said Williamson, the 2013 Greater Cincinnati Mid-Amateur champion.
And Williamson is three wins from adding the best word in golf to his name.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.