CHAMPIONS
U.S. Mid-Amateur Champion Memories … Jerry Courville Jr. September 18, 2016 | Far Hills, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

Jerry Courville Jr., the 1995 U.S. Mid-Am champion, is on the other side of the player/caddie relationship this week. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

Following a string of close calls that included semifinal showings in the 1989 U.S. Amateur and 1993 U.S. Mid-Amateur, and reaching the quarterfinals of the 1992 U.S. Mid-Amateur, Jerry Courville Jr., of Norwalk, Conn., finally claimed a USGA title when he defeated Warren Sye, 1 up, in the 1995 U.S. Mid-Amateur championship match at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. Courville, who also was the runner-up in 1999 and 2002, has since turned professional and this week at Wellesley Country Club, he is caddieing for fellow Connecticut resident Jo Rasmussen.

Last year, the USGA caught up with Courville and he recounted his Mid-Amateur victory along with looking back at his two Walker Cup appearances (1995 and 1997) and experience in the 1996 Masters. The 57-year-old currently instructs juniors at an indoor golf facility he owns in Southport, Conn.

Why did you thrive so much at the U.S. Mid-Amateur?

Courville: I was more comfortable and knew more of the players. I knew going in if I played well that I had a chance. I made the semifinals of the 1989 Amateur and made the quarterfinals a few times, but realistically, I couldn’t compete against those players. They were much younger, much stronger and much better.

What made 1995 such a special year?

Courville: It was special because of my father (Jerry Sr.). He had cancer and we knew he didn’t have too much longer to live. For me, it was kind of like proving myself to him. He never put pressure on me to play. Around here (Metropolitan Golf Association), he won everything there is to win. He’s one of the best amateurs to ever come out of Connecticut. When I was in college, I had a megacolon (abnormal dilation of the colon), so I didn’t really play [competitive golf] for like seven years. I got sick during my freshman year in college. I went from 180 pounds to 130 pounds. So deep down, I knew my father wasn’t long for living. I had made the Walker Cup and there was a lot of, “How did he make it?” But honestly, I wasn’t thinking about making the Walker Cup Team. I didn’t consider myself to be one of the top amateurs in the country.

Was your father present at Caves Valley?

Courville: He wasn’t there the first days because he was sick. It’s about a five-hour drive [from Connecticut] for the finals. I remember him trying to hide from me. He didn’t want me to see he was there. I saw him on probably the seventh or eighth hole and I was like 2 down. I said to myself, “If he can make that journey this far to come see me play, I better play better.” That was actually the worst round I played all week. But a lot of that was fatigue. I had just gotten back from the Walker Cup, and Caves Valley is not the easiest course to walk.

What was the embrace with your father like after winning?

Courville: A special moment. One of the things you will never forget in your whole life. Even to this day, I have a picture up there in my living room of myself and my father with the trophy.

Jerry Courville after winning the 1995 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Caves Valley. (USGA Archives)

The Metropolitan Golf Association’s Player of the Year honor is named after your father, correct?

Courville: Yes. Within the Met [Golf Association], he won the Ike Tournament six times. He won the Met Amateur and the Met Open. At the time he won, he was only the second amateur to win it. He won the Northeast Amateur.

Obviously, you advanced to two other Mid-Amateur finals in 1999 and 2002. How disappointing were those defeats?

Courville: The one that I lost to Danny [Green in 1999 at Old Warson C.C. in St. Louis] was just an 18-hole final. I just remember Danny making a lot of putts. Danny was a really good player and very underrated. I know some people didn’t like him, but I always got along with him. I thought he was a good guy. We had fun during the match.

Was it difficult losing to a friend and fellow MGA rival George Zahringer in 2002 at The Stanwich Club?

Courville: It was 36 holes and I had actually hurt my back in the second round on the second hole going to get the ball out of the hole. I remember through the first 18 holes [of the final match], we were all tied and that match was being shown on ESPN, and we waited about an hour and a half or so between rounds, and it was 55 degrees and raining, and my back just [flared up]. In the afternoon, I had no clue where the ball was going. Everything was numb. People remember shots I hit from other fairways.

Was there added pressure that week given the fact the Mid-Amateur was in your home state?

Courville: I didn’t feel any pressure or anything. I didn’t feel a lot of pressure when I played. I always took the attitude that I’m the underdog and have nothing to lose.

What kind of memories do you have from your two Walker Cup appearances?

Courville: It was just a great thing to represent your country. I remember the weather being horrible [in 1995]. The whole team got along great. It was a great experience, even though we lost. I had the good fortune of playing two Irish guys in the pouring rain. I lost to [future three-time major champion] Padraig Harrington [2 down on Saturday] and Jody Fanagan [3 and 2 on Sunday]. Obviously I felt bad about losing, but felt great about being there. Obviously, Quaker Ridge [in 1997] was one of the highlights. It was in my backyard and I had always played well at Quaker Ridge. I won the Met Amateur there. It was satisfying because we had lost in 1995. What I remember most is beating [future U.S. Open champion] Justin Rose twice. Granted, he was only [17] at the time. I beat him in the singles and in the alternate-shot match. I figure I am one of the few people in the world that can say they are 2-0 against him. I haven’t seen him since, but he’s gone on to have a pretty good career.

How special is it for a mid-amateur to get the chance to play in two Walker Cups?

Courville: It’s a special thing. I’m glad they are making it a point now where they’re picking two mid-amateurs on the team. I know a few guys have come out and said they should pick the 10 best players. I think they are looking at it the wrong way. The mid-amateurs are guys who aren’t pros. All the college kids are turning pro. It doesn’t mean as much to them as it does to a mid-amateur. I think it’s great they are giving these guys something to play for and when they get there, it’s something they will never forget the rest of their life.

Given your dad’s poor health, what was the 1996 Masters experience like?

Courville: My father did make it down there. The people at Augusta [National] were so nice that the Sunday before the tournament started they allowed him to take a cart around to see the whole golf course because he couldn’t walk 18 holes. I will always be grateful to them. He watched me play [the tournament], but he could only see a few holes. One of the special things was when I was on the practice range and [two-time U.S. Open champion] Curtis Strange came up to me and introduced himself. He told me he had two of his greatest matches ever against my dad. And he had heard he wasn’t doing very well. He said, “When you see him, tell him I said hello.” I told [Curtis] he’s here. And he made it a point to go up [into the grandstand] and bring him down onto the practice range, where technically only the players, caddies or coaches could go. He brought my father down to the driving range and introduced him to a lot of the players. That’s one thing I will never forget.

When did your father pass away?

Courville: In ’96, I played on the World Amateur Team [in the Philippines]. I was actually the fill-in for Tiger [Woods] because that’s when Tiger turned pro and I was the first alternate. I was very leery about going because he was not doing well at all. He was at a hospice and I told him I should stay home. He said, no, this is something you earned. He urged me to go. I didn’t play well and I had talked to my mom after the final round and it was not good. It’s a [long] flight home and he actually passed away [at the age of 62] on my way home. So it was bittersweet.

Are you still competing?

Courville: I’m still playing some senior stuff. My health isn’t what it used to be. I’ve had back surgeries. I’ve had tumor surgeries. I’ve had wrist tendon surgeries. So I’ve got to pick my spots.

Any thoughts of regaining your amateur status?

Courville: To be honest with you, I love teaching the kids. It’s something I really enjoy. I like getting calls from parents that he or she made the [high school] team. I’ve actually got four or five girls who can really play. I have a girl who just turned 14 and went up to Newport National in Rhode Island last year and shot 79-81 as a 13 year-old. She can legitimately hit it 240 [yards]. But she still has to learn how to play the game. I enjoy the teaching so much that … life is better now. I enjoy watching other people get better.

Interview conducted by USGA senior staff writer David Shefter, Email him at dshefter@usga.org.