Village of Pinehurst, N.C. – As he made his way around The Country Club of North Carolina’s Dogwood Course on Monday, some memories began to register.
“Don’t remind me, it was 30 years ago,” said Mike Neece when the subject was broached by a reporter. “I remember
the back nine better. I remember the first three holes and then it gets a little sketchy. But I definitely remember every hole on the back nine.”
| Mike Neece watches his daughter, Maggie, compete in the U.S. Girls' Junior at the same site where he played the 1980 U.S. Amateur. (John Mummert/USGA)
Neece qualified for the 1980 U.S. Amateur held at CCNC, losing in the first round of match play, 2 and 1, to Stuart Smith. It was one of five USGA amateur championships he played before a brief five-year professional career.
But his first trip back to CCNC was not in a competitive role. Neece’s youngest daughter, Maggie, qualified for this week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, so Mike was strolling the grounds as a supportive parent.
“I’m very impressed with her composure,” said the elder Neece. “Her maturity has really come along in the last six to eight months. She has turned the corner and it’s amazing to watch. I couldn’t be happier. I told her if she broke 80 today, it would be a good score.”
Maggie finished with a 6-over 78 on the 6,331-yard layout that was playing longer due to the heavy weekend rains softening the course.
“I had some bad shots, but it’s so awesome just to be here and experience all this,” said the 15-year-old sophomore-to-be at Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High School. “[My dad] told me to just enjoy it … and have a blast while you are here and soak it all in.”
Mike certainly knows a thing or two about competitive golf. He played collegiately at the University of Houston under legendary coach Dave Williams, where his teammates included a future Masters champion (Fred Couples), two other future PGA Tour mainstays (Blaine McAllister and Billy Ray Brown) and a future Emmy Award-winning sports announcer for CBS (Jim Nantz).
The team was so competitive that Williams once had 27 players on the roster. In 1982, Neece had to play 10 rounds against Brown to get the last spot for the NCAA Championship at Pinehurst, which Houston won. Brown eventually won a one-hole playoff at 6 a.m. with Neece at a local municipal course and then claimed the individual Division I title.
Following graduation, Mike advanced to the finals of PGA Tour Qualifying School three consecutive years (1984-86) and played on the Tournament Players Series, the precursor to what is now the Nationwide Tour. He later settled down to start a family and started his own sales and marketing business.
It was the youngest of Mike’s three daughters who gravitated to the game. Once Maggie discovered golf, she was hooked.
She began competing on the Texas Junior Tour, where Mike is involved as the chairman of the board. The circuit conducts more than 80 events across the state each year. This year, Maggie has graduated to some American Junior Golf Association events and she competed in the Arizona Silverbelle over the Christmas break. Qualifying for the Girls’ Junior was another major step in her development.
“Just to say I went to the Girls’ Junior is phenomenal,” said Maggie. “These girls are so good. But so am I. I got here. It’s me against the course, not me against them.”
And Mike has allowed his daughter’s game to evolve at her own pace. As someone who has been through the rigors of
junior, amateur and professional golf, he understands it’s a progression.
| Maggie Neece opened stroke-play qualifying with a 78 on Monday. (John Mummert/USGA)
“My goal for Maggie is to enjoy the game,” said Neece. “It’s a lifelong sport and I have seen what it has done for me personally in my life. It’s a game you can enjoy the rest of your life. If I’m 80 years old and she can stand to play nine holes with me somewhere that will be great.”
Of course, being an ex-college teammate of Nantz has its privileges. Maggie has visited the broadcaster in the 18th-hole tower at the HP Byron Nelson Classic and Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Maggie and Mike have even had lunch with the broadcaster, and Nantz sent Maggie a good luck text message Monday morning.
“Of all the guys I went to school with, he’s the most amazing man,” said Mike Neece. “I respect him immensely. He’s a salt-of-the-earth guy.”
Maggie once sat on the lap of Peggy Nelson, the wife of the late Hall of Fame golfer, and enjoyed chocolate-covered golf balls. Couples once asked her for advice on shopping.
But all those experiences pale to the days spent on the golf course with dad. For all of her mental and physical improvements over the last six to eight months, Maggie is still trying to beat her father on the course.
She’s come awfully close. At their home club, the TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas, Maggie shot a first-nine 35 to her father’s 38. Immediately, she began texting friends – “I’m finally going to beat him” – when dad informed Maggie that it was an 18-hole round.
“I knuckled down,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to relinquish the family crown at that point.”
Last week, the family vacationed in the San Diego area and visited 2007 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Anthony Paolucci, a former Dallas resident that was a member at TPC Las Colinas. All three played The Bridges and Mike thought he might show the All-American junior a thing or two. Paolucci carded a 67 to Mike’s 71.
“It’s a good thing I kept my mouth shut,” said Mike. “Maggie was jacked up to play with Anthony so there was good competitive spirit. It was a good match.”
Maggie, of course, can do something her father never accomplished at CCNC 30 years ago.
Advance past the first round of match play.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.