CHAMPIONS
Dream Masters Week for Hagestad, Disappointment for Rose April 9, 2017 By David Shefter, USGA

Stewart Hagestad's Masters to remember culminated with earning low-amateur honors on Sunday evening. (Augusta National Golf Club)

Stewart Hagestad’s visit to the 2017 Masters started with nine holes alongside former Secretary of State and Augusta National Golf Club member Condoleezza Rice. He enjoyed lunch on the clubhouse deck with five-time major champion Phil Mickelson and received a putting lesson from two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. Practice rounds ensued with friends and former junior golf rivals Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

That would be enough for the reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion to fill a scrapbook full of memories.

But the poised and confident Hagestad kept adding to his diary. On Friday, he shot a second-round 73 to go with his first-round 74, thereby making the cut and accomplishing what no player had done since the Masters began inviting the winner of the U.S. Mid-Am in 1989. The Newport Beach, Calif., native continued his solid play over the final 36 holes to earn low-amateur honors and finish his week with an appearance inside Butler Cabin receiving congratulations from Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne, CBS lead announcer Jim Nantz and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

How about that for an early birthday present.

Hagestad, who turns 26 on April 10, the day after the Masters , edged reigning U.S. Amateur champion Curtis Luck, of Australia, by three strokes to win the Silver Cup given to the low amateur.

“A lot of firsts, a lot of firsts,” said Hagestad. “Firsts are usually good. Yeah, it's a dream come true and it's something I've long thought about and to have it all come to fruition is an absolute dream come true. Pretty special.”

The financial analyst began Sunday’s final round with a four-stroke lead over Luck, but the 20-year-old Aussie, who was playing his final event as an amateur, cut the margin to one with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 12. Hagestad responded with birdies at 10, 13 and 14 to build his lead back to four. He bogeyed the par-3 16th hole, but managed a pair of pars on the last two holes for a 1-over 73 and a 72-hole total of 6-over 294.

Hagestad took a leave-of-absence from his job in Manhattan to concentrate on his Masters appearance. He also is planning to begin graduate school in the fall, an endeavor he hopes comes after the Walker Cup Match at The Los Angeles Country Club (Sept. 9-10), where he is a junior member. His USGA competition schedule begins at next month’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship with partner Sam Smith at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, followed by U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Big Canyon Country Club and Newport Beach Country Club. He grew up playing Big Canyon.

Hagestad rallied to claim last year’s Mid-Amateur at Stonewall in Elverson, Pa., making birdies on five of the final six holes, including the clincher on the 37th hole, against 2014 champion Scott Harvey.

By winning the title, Hagestad earned an invitation to the Masters, plus an exemption into the next two U.S. Amateurs and a spot in U.S. Open sectional qualifying. If he fails to qualify for the U.S. Open, he’ll fly to England to compete in The Amateur Championship conducted by The R&A at Royal St. George’s.

But he’ll never forget his walk up 18 at Augusta on Sunday, knowing he was about to be the low amateur of the 81st Masters.

“I had chills from about 75 yards out and to have everyone just here to support me, what an honor,” said Hagestad.  “I mean, this is absolutely … why you play the game and why you practice and it's a really, really special week for me and I'm sure the emotions will hit me here at some point.”

While Luck decided to forego his U.S. Open exemption by turning professional after signing his card on Sunday, he still is exempt into sectional qualifying. He said the Columbus, Ohio, qualifier on June 5 works well for his schedule because he has accepted a sponsor’s invitation to play the Memorial Tournament, which concludes on June 4.

Luck, who defeated Brad Dalke in the championship match of the U.S. Amateur last August at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., also said the timing was right to begin his pro career.

“I've felt ready for the last four or five months, and now having all this experience playing these professional events over the last three months in particular, yeah, I feel like I'm ready to compete at this level,” said Luck. “It's been an amazing week.  I've enjoyed it thoroughly. I'm hoping that I'll be here in the future, hopefully next year would be very nice.”

So Close for Rose

Justin Rose nearly joined Ben Hogan as golfers to win a U.S. Open at Merion and a Masters title, but the Englishman came up short in losing a sudden-death playoff to good friend and European Ryder Cup teammate Garcia.

Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion and the gold medalist in last year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, held a one-stroke lead with two holes to play. But he missed a 6-foot par putt on 17 that forged a tie. Neither player converted birdie putts inside 8 feet on 18 to push the competition to extra holes, as both finished 72 holes at 9-under 279.

In the playoff, Rose hit a poor tee shot on the 18th hole into the pine straw right of the fairway. He hit a recovery that managed to skid back into the fairway, then played a nice approach shot that stopped 12 feet right of the flagstick. However, his par attempt drifted to the right, setting the stage for Garcia, who holed an 8-foot downhill birdie putt to end a 0-for-73 drought in the majors.

“I'm not going to sit here and second guess one or two shots,” said Rose. “I really stepped up. I felt great. I felt in control. I felt positive. I felt confident. And you know, barring a great comeback from Sergio, it was mine to cruise to the house. But it's not always that easy.

“Before I won at Merion, [I said] you're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors but you've got to be willing to lose them. You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leader board. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

More USGA Champs Have Great Week in Augusta

Three USGA champions finished in the top 10, led by 1997 U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar. Thanks to a hole-in-one on the 16th hole, Kuchar carded a final-round 67 to earn a share of fourth place with Thomas Pieters, of Belgium, at 5-under 283.

Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion seeking a Masters title to complete the career Grand Slam, tied for seventh a 3-under 285. And three-time USGA champion Ryan Moore (2002 and 2004 U.S. Amateur Public Links and 2004 U.S. Amateur) tied for ninth at 2-under 286.

Three-time USGA champion Jordan Spieth (2015 U.S. Open, 2009 and 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur) failed to finish in the top 2 for the first time in four Masters starts. Spieth, who started the day two strokes behind 54-hole leaders Rose and Garcia, carded a final-round 75 to tie for 11th with two-time USA Walker Cup competitor Rickie Fowler and  2011 USA Walker Cup teammate Russell Henley, the last man to receive a 2017 Masters invite following his win in Houston last week.

The top 12 scorers and ties earn invitations to the 2018 Masters.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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