Moments after he secured his place in the championship match of the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur, Michael McCoy reached into his bag to pull out a victory cigar.
McCoy, who often has been seen this week enjoying a stogie, eschewed them for most of his quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Wednesday at the Country Club of Birmingham.
He instead chose to light up the West Course.
The 50-year-old from West Des Moines, Iowa, played 8-under golf, with the usual match play concessions, over 27 holes en route to winning 7 and 6 and 4 and 3, respectively, over Bradley Bastion and 2005 champion Kevin Marsh.
"I hit a lot of quality shots," said McCoy.
In his 38th USGA championship, McCoy will be playing in his first final. This was the third time he had reached the semifinals in 14 U.S. Mid-Amateur appearances, and he finally made it count.
McCoy, an insurance agent, has been chasing USGA titles since he was a teenager. He never qualified for a U.S. Junior Amateur and didn’t make his first start in a national championship – the 1982 U.S. Amateur Public Links – until he was a college sophomore at Wichita (Kan.) State.
Since then, McCoy, who played briefly as a professional after graduating in 1985, has won six Iowa Amateurs and three Iowa Mid-Amateurs. He is a four-time champion of the prestigious Crump Cup at Pine Valley and he won the 2011 Coleman Invitational at Seminole Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.
This year, he qualified for his first U.S. Senior Open (missed cut) and his 12th U.S. Amateur (missed cut).
Last fall, McCoy shot a course-record 64 in his qualifier for the Crump Cup, only to lose to Marsh in the semifinals. So it was especially gratifying for McCoy to reach the Mid-Amateur final and exact his revenge.
"I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I love golf," said McCoy. "I love to practice. I love to play competitive golf. It is my passion. It’s exciting to have something like this happen."
Richard Sexton III wanted to take part in this year’s Mid-Amateur after competing in the 2000, 2004 and 2010 championships. A member of the Country Club of Birmingham until two years ago, Sexton attended the Shoal Creek sectional qualifier, but was the second alternate. Despite failing to qualify, he decided to participate in a different way.
He contacted John Fulkerson, who headed the committee choosing the caddies, and told him he wanted McCoy’s bag.
"I had never met him, but I knew he had a chance to win this thing," said the 42-year-old Sexton, who finished third at this year’s National Invitation Tournament, hosted by CCB, behind winner John Engler and runner-up Kevin Marsh.
With Sexton’s guidance, McCoy managed to earn the No. 9 seed out of qualifying and follow it up with five consecutive match-play wins.
Sexton is enjoying his return to the club, even though he was forced to sacrifice his membership in 2011.
"I ran out of money," he said, jokingly.
This week, though, he’s earned his stripes, and a little bit of cash.
Bob Jones and the Country Club Of Birmingham
On Thursday, the champion of the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur will receive the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy, a cup that is named in honor of, arguably, America’s greatest amateur golfer. Jones won five U.S. Amateurs and four U.S. Opens before retiring from competitive golf in 1930 following his completion of the Grand Slam.
Jones has history at the Country Club of Birmingham. At the age of 14, the Atlanta native won the 1916 National Invitation Tournament at CCB. He captured the title again four years later when the club hosted the event for a third time.
The National Invitational Tournament – or NIT, as club members call it – has been contested 75 times since 1913. Today, it is a 54-hole, stroke-play competition held annually in June. Notable champions apart from Jones include Gardner Dickinson and 1977 U.S. Open champion Hubert Green, who grew up on the Country Club of Birmingham and still lives in the area. Green won the NIT in 1966, ’68 and ’69.
Four players in this year’s Mid-Amateur field have won the NIT, including 2013 winner John Engler, who was eliminated in the Round of 16 on Tuesday afternoon. Will Swift IV, who played at Auburn and lost in a 12-for-8 playoff on Monday for the final match-play spots, won in 1998; Patrick Christovich, who lost in the first round, won in 2012; and two-time Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson claimed the title three consecutive years from 2006-08. Jackson fell in the Round of 32.
Kevin Marsh seems to have good luck when the U.S. Mid-Amateur is played in the South. In 2005, he won the title at The Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tenn. A year earlier at Sea Island Golf Club, he advanced to the quarterfinals, where he fell in 19 holes to Wright Waddell. And this year in Birmingham, he reached the semifinals, losing, 4 and 3, to Michael McCoy.
He even reunited with caddie Chris Burgreen, an Athens, Ala., native who was on his bag in 2005. Burgreen also caddied for Marsh at the 2006 Masters as well as the 2006 and 2008 Mid-Amateurs at Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, Ariz., and Milwaukee Country Club, respectively.
"He’s been a really close friend since 1997 when I was on the Hooters Tour," said Marsh, who is a reinstated amateur.
As for his Southern success, Marsh added: "The people are just so nice. You feel like you are a member of the club for the week. At the end of the week, if you play well, you’ve got cheering for you. It’s special."
This was Kenneth McCready’s final event as an amateur. After his 2-and-1 semifinal loss to Bill Williamson, McCready plans to turn professional and play on the eGolf Tour, a circuit based in North Carolina. The tour is a stepping stone to the Web.com and PGA Tours.
McCready, 25, delayed turning pro after graduating from the University of San Diego in 2011 due to injuries. He has been working in the golf shop at Riverwalk Golf Club in San Diego since the start of the year.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.