The Grind of Winning a USGA Championship

The arduous road to the final of a USGA championship is not easy, especially in the heat of summer. (USGA/Robert Walker)
By Stuart Hall
July 17, 2010

Greensboro, N.C. — Harris English is not fond of bananas. So when he peeled yet another one back in between nines of Thursday’s second round at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, he did so out of necessity, not by choice.

“You just have to force yourself to eat and make sure you stay hydrated,” said English, a 20-year-old Georgian who is quite accustomed to the stifling heat, humidity and general mugginess that has draped over Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center this week.

Winning the APL is as much about mental and physical perseverance as it is shot making. When play begins with Monday’s stroke play, golfers know they could conceivably play nine rounds in six days, including 108 holes the last three days. Since the last seven rounds are match play, the number of holes often is reduced.

Heading into Saturday’s final against Lion Kim, David McDaniel, 25, of Tucson, Ariz., had played 91 holes in five match play rounds — one more hole than five stroke-play rounds — and seven more holes than Kim, 21, of Ann Arbor, Mich.

While an extra seven holes may not seem like much, the roughly two extra hours off the course is welcome relief during such a grueling week.

Quarterfinalist Wesley Graham, 20, of Port Orange, Fla., was extended to a combined 36 holes in Thursday’s second and third rounds. His immediate thoughts were not of the next day’s quarterfinal match, but of his plans for the evening.

“You just want to get something to eat, go back to the hotel, put the AC on 60, lay on the bed, watch some TV and go the sleep,” he said.

English, who reached the quarterfinals, said he prepared for the physical grind of this week by pushing himself further in off-course workouts such as running. Even that, though, could not simulate the mental aspect of focusing on each shot on every hole for what, on some days, could be eight hours of golf.

When told that there were some players in the match play field who had played the previous week at The Players Amateur in Bluffton, S.C., English just shook his head.

“I really don’t know how they did it,” he said. “I thought about it, but I wanted to come in here fresh.”

Patrick Reed, 19, of Augusta, Ga., was one such player. After tying for 16th in the four-round tournament that concluded on Sunday, he drove up to Greensboro. When asked Thursday if fatigue was becoming a factor, Reed said the worst part was the drive between events.

Jimmy Liu, who, at 14, was the youngest player in the field, began a stretch of three successive weeks with the APL. He said such a schedule is not uncommon for a lot of players during the summer amateur season, and that for him it helps his sharpen the mental side of his game.

There is also an urban legend-like notion that players from Southern locales hold an advantage over their Northern region opponents, but players from both sides of the Mason-Dixon line scoff at such a thought.

“We’re in the middle of our golf season,” said Garrett Rank, 22, of Elmira, Ontario, Canada, “and I would say that on average it’s about five degrees cooler than it is here this week.”

Graham, a rising junior at Florida State University, agreed.

“If you play college golf, you play all over the country, so players just adapt,” he said. “Sure, I probably play in heat like this more often in Tallahassee, but I don’t see it as much of a difference.”

As arduous a week this can be, every player understands the sacrifice for the ultimate payoff.

“You get to be a national champion,” English said. “Not a lot of players can say that.”

Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.

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