U.S. MID-AMATEUR
Sunday Notebook: Brutal Wind Batters Field September 25, 2010 By Stuart Hall

Tim Spitz (above), the runner-up in 2009, was just one of many golfers victimized by the gusting winds on Sunday at the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur. (John Mummert/USGA)

Bridgehampton, N.Y. — Brutal.

That was Tim Spitz’s one-word assessment of afternoon playing conditions in the second round of the 30th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Atlantic Golf Club.

On Saturday, Spitz was one of six U.S. Mid-Am quarterfinalists from a year ago to sit among the leaderboard’s top 20. He was in with a comfortable 1-over 73.

Sunday was not so comfortable. Playing in the afternoon wave, Spitz posted a late 8-over 80 and was left to agonize whether his 9-over 153 was good enough to get him into Monday’s 64-player match play field.

Eleven players joined Spitz at 153, creating a 12-man playoff for the final five match-play spots. Since 2002, nine is the most over par to make the cut.

The wind was howling, said Spitz, 34, of Pittsford, N.Y., last year’s Mid-Am runner-up. It was a two- or three-club wind, easily. I won’t call it British Open-like winds, but it had to be close.

Tim Jackson (1994 and 2001 Mid-Amateur champion), Kevin Marsh (2005 champion) and Sean Knapp (2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur semifinalist) thought it was a four-club wind at times.  Statistically, Atlantic Golf Club played nearly a stroke easier in the second round. At The Bridge on Sunday, the course was more than two strokes more difficult than the first round.

Scott Harvey, 32, of Greensboro, N.C., was of the belief that the wind aided many of the field’s better players, explaining why so many of the Mid-Am marquee names were on the leaderboard from the get-go.

If you can control your ball, no problem, said Harvey, who shared medalist honors with 1996 Amateur Public Links champion Tim Hogarth of Northridge, Calif., and reigning champion Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith of Pittsburgh, Pa. But a shot offline? The wind is really going to exaggerate shots. Then you’re in trouble and just playing to make bogey.

Since 2002, only once has the medalist finished at par or higher. In 2006, six players finished stroke play at 1-over par.

Mike McCoy, 47, of West Des Moines, Iowa, threw in another factor for the cream rising to the top.

Later in the year everybody’s game is sharp, said McCoy, last year’s U.S. Mid-Am co-medalist and a 2008 Mid-Am semifinalist. The golf course and the weather separate the more seasoned players from the average players. It’s probably a combination of guys coming in here sharp and some demanding conditions.

Mindset also plays a part, Spitz said. The mantra of just surviving to reach match play does not necessarily hold true with every player.

To be honest, I play to win and be medalist, he said. It’s a 36-hole tournament, so why not try and win.

Harvey agrees, but knowing that a lost stroke here and there does not end the chance of winning the bigger title is comforting. In Harvey’s case, shooting an opening round 1-under 71 gave him even more breathing room.

Five was the lowest over-par cutline of the past nine years.

In all USGA events even par in stroke play will get you into the top 10, Harvey said.

But you also know that in most instances four, five or six over par will get you into match play.

Especially this year — thanks in large part to the wind.

Betting Proposition

Casey Cusack is a gambling man. Literally.

Given that a player from Anchorage, Alaska, has never won a Mid-Amateur, much less any USGA championship, the odds of one winning would be difficult to compute.

Cusack likes the odds, though. The reason being that Cusack, 30, who was a professional poker player for nearly seven years, hails from the 49th state.

Goal one for the week was accomplished when he posted a 6-over 150 in stroke-play qualifying.

Today I was a little disappointed, but I do like the way I’m playing, Cusack said, who shot a 4-over 76 at Atlantic Golf Club Sunday. We’ll see what happens the rest of the week.

Cusack grew up in Alaska playing, oddly enough, hockey. He took up golf at age 15 and three years later moved to Arizona. He helped Chaparral High School win a state championship. Cusack never attended college, but began playing poker professionally at age 21.

Cards ultimately trumped competition.

I just quit playing, he said. The last couple of years I have started playing more seriously again.

Seriously? Crack on the quality of golf in Alaska, but consider that Cusack is a two-time Alaskan Triple Crown winner. The last two years, Cusack has won the state’s three majors — the state amateur stroke and match play tournaments, and the Anchorage Golf Association city championship.

Cusack, who splits his year between Anchorage and Phoenix, Ariz., also qualified for the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship earlier this summer. The tournament dates, though, conflicted with the Alaska State Amateur. Since Cusack was the reigning champion, he thought it best to return.

He shot 15-under 273 and won by five strokes.

Regardless of this week’s outcome, Cusack is toying with the idea of turning pro in an attempt to earn a PGA Tour card.

I don’t know, we’ll have to see, he said, but it is something I’d like to try at some point.

Don’t bet against him.

Proud Bronco

Ben Trap Leestma posted an early 78 at Atlantic Golf Club on Sunday, finishing his two-day stay with a 13-over 157. But Leestma, 30, of Boise, Idaho, left the grounds somewhat satisfied.

The U.S. Air Force F-15C pilot proudly displayed Boise State University car flags as he drove away. Boise State’s football team is currently ranked No. 3 in the country and defeated 24th-ranked Oregon State 37-24.

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