Competitors Find Creative Ways to Stay Sharp
September 9, 2016 | Elverson, Pa.
By David Shefter, USGA
For more than a decade, Jonathan Jeter left his Manhattan residence with his clubs slung over his shoulder and hopped on the Long Island Rail Road at Penn Station to make the hour-long trek to Bethpage State Park to play weekend rounds on one of the facility’s five courses.
And to keep his game sharp during the week, he purchased a piece of artificial turf so he could he hit putts down the hallway of his apartment complex. He also would go hit balls at Chelsea Piers, one of the city’s few practice facilities.
When you’re an elite amateur golfer with a full-time job living in an urban setting, maintaining a competitive edge is a challenge.
“It’s kind of spit and duct tape,” said Jeter.
Most of the other 263 players here at Stonewall this week for the 36th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship can relate.
Welcome to the 25-and-older national championship, where golf skill meets real life. Here it is more about business cards than tour cards. Conversations center on careers, spouses and children, not where they’re headed to college or Q-School.
When rounds end, players often head for a massage and the 19th hole instead of texting with their instructor or grinding on the range or practice green.
“It’s more business-like at the [U.S.] Amateur,” said 2014 Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey. “When [players] get done, they go hit balls for three hours or go work out. Here we’re telling jokes and having a good time. It’s definitely a more relaxed environment.”
As a property manager, Harvey, 38, of Greensboro, N.C., has more free time than many of his Mid-Amateur brethren. But with a 7-year-old son now active in youth sports, Harvey admitted he’s had to dial back his golf. A 2015 USA Walker Cup Team member, he doesn’t play on the weekends unless he’s competing and makes sure he’s home to pick up Cameron at school and attend his soccer games.
“As much as I love competing … it doesn’t mean anything at all compared to family,” said Harvey, who last year traveled to South America, Europe and Japan for elite amateur competitions. He’s not alone. Bill Williamson, 39, of Cincinnati, Ohio, the 2013 Mid-Amateur runner-up, has two young girls, ages 5 and 3, plus the high-pressure demands of being an attorney for a mid-size firm. Weekends are family time, so Williamson often squeezes in five holes after work at his club or putts for 15 minutes on the practice green in the morning en route to the office. If he’s pressed for time before a tournament, he’ll try to simulate a few holes on the driving range. He does anything to keep his game sharp within the small windows of free time.
“You try to compartmentalize it,” said Williamson, the Greater Cincinnati Golf Association’s Player of the Year the past four years and 2009 Ohio Mid-Amateur champion.
Modern conveniences also help Williamson stay abreast of his workload. Here at Stonewall, Williamson started his first practice round day by Face Timing with his 5-year-old daughter Shelby before she departed for kindergarten, warmed up for an hour, had lunch, got caught up on work through his phone and then played 18 holes with Cincinnati-area rival Brad Wilder and good friend Dan Sullivan, of Pasadena, Calif.
“The world doesn’t stop [for golf events],” said Williamson, whose specialty is corporate and real estate transactions. “I’ve got great help at the firm with a great staff and great partners. Fortunately in the world we live in now, I don’t need to be sitting in an office doing work.”
Matt Mattare, 30, of Jersey City, N.J., spent a few hours Thursday morning at his Manhattan-based financial services office before driving to Stonewall for his 2:20 p.m. practice round on the Old Course. A recent switch in roles has given Mattare a bit more freedom in terms of his hours. Instead of market hours, Mattare can sneak off for a few hours of afternoon golf at a local nine-hole course before putting in a few hours of work after dark. On weekends, he makes the 90-minute commute to Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa., where his father, Gene, is the longtime general manager and where he’s now a member.
Being single also affords Mattare a bit more flexibility, but he still hasn’t taken a “real” vacation since graduating from Notre Dame in 2008.
“Basically every vacation day I take is allocated to tournaments,” said Mattare. “That’s the trade-off.”
Jeter also doesn’t have children and is self-employed – he started an innovative consulting business 2½ years ago – which allows him to create his own hours. He travels a lot for work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s playing golf.
The 38-year-old enters as many Metropolitan Golf Association events as possible. Played on some of the finest courses in the country, Jeter uses these competitions to stay sharp.
“Even at Bethpage, where I play,” said Jeter, “there’s a practice green, but you can’t chip there and you can’t hit drivers on the range, which has mats.”
Not that anyone is taking pity on Mid-Amateurs. They all understand the circumstances. That’s part of the championship’s charm. Many have formed lifetime friendships from playing in this event. So whether they sell insurance, work in the financial sector, are self-employed or even caddie full-time, they all share one common bond: they love to compete. But unlike the juniors or collegians who dominate the U.S. Amateur, golf isn’t their No. 1 priority.
As Williamson so aptly put it, “the Mid-Amateur has become what the U.S. Amateur was 40 or 50 years ago.”
“Maybe you haven’t hit a 1,000 balls in the last two days, you’ve hit a 1,000 balls in the last two months,” added Williamson. “You’re rekindling what you’ve been doing all summer. You just don’t do it full-time.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.