Going into his U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier in late July, Mark Mance had one thing on his mind: finish high.
While earning one of the two available spots at The Ranch Club in Missoula, Mont., was the ultimate goal, another very important one was dangling in front of the 42-year-old Mance. The qualifier offered the last chance to earn valuable points toward making Montana’s three-man squad for the USGA Men’s State Team Championship.
This championship had been circled on Mance’s competitive calendar since the day it was announced that Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa, Calif., would host the biennial competition. Mance, who resides in Whitefish, Mont., seven months a year and in San Francisco the other five, has been a Mayacama member since 2003. So the chance to participate in a USGA championship on the Jack Nicklaus design was major motivation.
Entering the 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifier, Mance was on the proverbial bubble to make the team. A 74 in the morning 18 didn’t help matters. But in the afternoon, everything came together. Mance shot a career-best 65 (seven under). While he missed making the Amateur field by three strokes – the medalist, Canadian Brock Crosson shot 10-under 134 and Jay Linquist posted a 136 – Mance attained enough points to secure the third spot on Montana’s team with Bill Dunn and Brandon Davison.
Mance actually finished fifth overall with 185 points, but the top two point leaders, Larry Iverson and Gordon Webb, were ineligible because they are college players. Anyone currently playing college golf is ineligible for the Men’s State Team Championship, per NCAA rules.
“I think a 66 would not have gotten me on the team,” said Mance of his career round. “I birdied 17 and 18 in that round. It was disappointing [not to make the Amateur], but it was also the best round that I’ve ever had. It was exciting for me that I finished strong.”
Now Mance gets the rarest of opportunities: a chance to compete in a national championship on his home course. Sometimes the player places additional pressure on himself, but one Mayacama member believes Mance should feel right at home.
“He’s going to have a big advantage,” said 58-year-old Paul Balatti, who edged Mance by two strokes in the Mayacama club championship two weeks ago. “I probably know him better than anyone on the planet as far as golf is concerned. He’s not a long hitter, but is a phenomenal iron player and is the best chipper that I play with. And when he putts well, he’s very, very good.”
By competing in the club championship, Mance caught a good glimpse of how Mayacama will be set up for the Men’s State Team Championship, although the fourth hole played as a par 5 (it will be a par 4 for the competition). The greens also weren’t as firm as they’ll be for the event, but the rough was up.
Mance will have the most local knowledge of anyone in the field, although California team members Randy Haag and Jeff Wilson have played the course numerous times.
“Mayacama is the type of course that you need to see a few times to play well on it,” said Mance, who also is a member at The Olympic Club in San Francisco and Iron Horse in Whitefish. “It’s a very, very hard golf course. Once you play it a few times, it gets a little easier. So I am hoping it’s going to be a big advantage. But you never know.”
Occasionally, the home-course advantage can help. Minnesota won the 2001 Men’s State Team at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., a course all three team members had played several times prior to the competition. In 2007, Texas won at The Club at Carlton Woods, but none of the players were members at The Woodlands club.
A few players have won USGA individual titles on their home club, most notably Carol Semple Thompson, who claimed the 1990 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and 2001 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley, Pa.
The State Team Championship is a 54-hole competition, where the two lowest scores from each three-man team are counted toward the day’s total. During the two practice rounds, Mance plans to give Dunn and Davison plenty of tips on how to play Mayacama.
“I am going to show them every hole and where you can and cannot hit it,” he said. “There are a lot of places where you can’t miss it. Like No. 9 (par 5). I made a double bogey there in the final round of the club championship and it cost me the tournament because I basically hit it in the wrong spot.
“The whole thing at Mayacama is staying away from the big numbers. You can easily shoot 70 or under, but if you are hitting it a little bit off, you can also shoot above 80 very easily. You don’t have to be missing it by much to make double and triple bogeys. If we can stay away from double bogeys, I think we’ll do pretty well. But that’s a big if.”
Growing up, Mance’s sport of choice featured a bigger ball and different playing arena. From an early age, Mance was a highly competitive tennis player, good enough to once be nationally ranked as high as No. 3 in doubles and in the top 10 in singles.
When he was 16, he knocked out a future Hall of Famer named Pete Sampras in the round of 16 at the United States Tennis Association’s 16 and Under National Hard Court Championship.
“Truth be told, I was a bit taller and at that point, it was a little bit of a mismatch,” said Mance.
Mance reached the final, losing to No. 1-ranked Chris Garner.
Two years later, he teamed with Drew Wager to win a pair of national doubles titles, defeating future pros David Wheaton and Jeff Tarango in the National Hard Court finals. Mance also routinely competed against future stars Jim Courier and MaliVai Washington.
Duke University awarded him a full scholarship and he was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer in 1989. Mance briefly tried the pro circuit for a year before realizing the only way he was going to get to Centre Court at Wimbledon was to buy a ticket.
He earned an MBA at Stanford and shortly thereafter began playing golf. Six years ago, Mance decided to get serious with the game and began competing in events, both in California and Montana. When he formed his own company – Northview Hotel Group – in 2004, Mance dedicated himself to golf and went from playing once a week to nearly every day. His clubs only go into storage between December and February, when he enjoys the ski slopes of Montana with his wife, Katie.
With daylight extended in Montana as late as 9:30 p.m. in the summer, Mance can often work until 5 and sneak in 18 before dark.
“I’m still working full-time, but I can make my own schedule,” said Mance, who owns and manages several hotels, including a resort in Key West, Fla.
Added Balatti: “He’s very, very competitive. He’s very intense. I think that comes from the tennis [background].”
Earlier this year, Mance advanced out of a U.S. Open local qualifier to a sectional at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento. Paired with David Berganio Jr., a two-time U.S. Amateur Public Links champion who now plays on the PGA and Nationwide tours, and 2009 U.S. Amateur semifinalist Bhavik Patel, Mance had an eye-opening experience. He missed qualifying by 20-plus strokes, but it provided an opportunity to see where his game stacked up.
It also gave him an idea of the pressure and competitive environment that Mance will encounter at the Men’s State Team Championship.
“Those two played much better than I did,” he said. “There were probably about 1,000 people out there watching the tournament. For me, I hadn’t played in a lot of golf tournaments like that before.”
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.