U.S. Junior Am Champ Hailes Looks to Reclaim 1995 Magic October 7, 2017 | Atlanta, Ga. By David Shefter, USGA

A lot has transpired on and off the golf course for Scott Hailes since he won the U.S. Junior Amateur 22 years ago. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Mid-Amateur Home

Twelve USGA champions are in the field for the 37th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. Eleven have claimed those titles in the last decade.

The one outlier? Scott Hailes.

A vast majority of the 264 competitors this week may not know what USGA championship Hailes captured. His jet-black hair was much fuller and 6-foot-2 frame a little trimmer in 1995 when he defeated future PGA Tour player James Driscoll at Fargo (N.D.) Country Club, 1 up, in the 18-hole final. Back then, he went by D. Scott Hailes – the D standing for his grandfather Donald.

His win made him the first Utah native to win a USGA championship in 69 years, since George Von Elm defeated Bob Jones to win the 1926 U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club.

En route to the title, Hailes defeated his cousin, Boyd Summerhays, in an intense 19-hole, Round-of-16 match. Summerhays, now a swing coach for his brother, Daniel, and fellow PGA Tour pro Tony Finau, then caddied for Scott for the remainder of his run. ,.

Many of the players in the field that week went on to achieve success in the professional ranks, including 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, Matt Kuchar, Carl Pettersson, Scott Piercy and Charles Howell III. Hailes, now 39, thought he would go down that path, as well. His Junior Amateur victory made him a hero in his hometown of West Bountiful, a small town 20 miles north of Salt Lake City. The civic center put his name up on the electric board for more than a week, and the local papers feted him. But, try as he might, Hailes never reached the top of the mountain again.

Hailes, who graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2002, bounced around the mini-tour circuit for nearly five years. The furthest he advanced in PGA Tour Qualifying School was the second stage in 2006, and his biggest paycheck was the $5,717 he earned when he tied for third in the 2005 Colorado Open.

A lack of success on the course, plus other factors outside the ropes, including a wrist injury and divorce, effectively ended Hailes’ professional golf career.

Asked why it all unraveled, Hailes points to a much earlier point in his career. In the fall of 1998, he had just returned from a two-year Mormon mission in Spain and was about to begin his sophomore season at New Mexico. Hailes started his collegiate career at Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio, because it was the only Division I school to offer a full scholarship. Hailes came from modest means and the scholarship helped him afford college.

At Wright State, Hailes never was comfortable. He didn’t have a car, didn’t like his surroundings and hated the brutally cold winter. By January, he informed his coach wanted to transfer.

Nine Future USGA Champions Who Competed in 1995 U.S. Junior Amateur
Name Title Won 1995 Result
Jason Allred 1997 U.S. Junior Am Lost R16 (Larry Nuger)
Lucas Glover 2009 U.S. Open Lost R32 (James Driscoll)
David Gossett 1999 U.S. Amateur Missed cut
Matt Kuchar 1997 U.S. Amateur Lost R32 (Carl Pettersson)
Shane McMenamy 1996 U.S. Junior Am Lost R64 (Derek Gillespie)
Jeff Quinney 2000 U.S. Amateur Lost R32 (Chris Speight)
Nathan Smith 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur; 2015 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Missed cut
Donald "D.J." Trahan 2000 U.S. Amateur Public Links Lost R32 (Larry Nuger)
Dave Womack 2006 U.S. Mid-Amateur Missed cut

John Fields originally lured him to New Mexico but had moved on to the University of Texas before Hailes arrived. New coach J.T. Barrett had originally tried to recruit Hailes to UNLV, so he was familiar with his game.

What Hailes wasn’t familiar with was a swing that had gone awry. Hailes admits he should have sought out an instructor to fix an over-the-top move.

“If I had come home and gotten a swing coach and got my swing back, we’d be having a different conversation now,” said Hailes. “I grooved this over-the-top nasty swing. I found a way to score in college and was All-American my senior year. I would hit six greens and shoot one under. That was standard for me.”

By 2005, three years after he graduated from New Mexico, his game was improving, but life was getting in the way. His wife was pregnant with the first of their two sons (Joseph 10, Zachary 9), and he lost a sponsor. At 31 years old, Hailes had hit a crossroads.

“I took that as a sign that maybe you shouldn’t play anymore,” he said. “The only thing I could do was sales and that pays strictly on commission. Just like, I wanted to be competitive.”

So Hailes immersed himself in a new career path and for the next decade, basically quit golf. At one point, he thought about becoming an instructor at a Jack Nicklaus golf academy in Guam, but his divorce ended that idea.

He moved back to Utah for several years in 2007before returning to Phoenix again, where he now works for an irrigation company.

While working for a roofing company in Phoenix in 2012, his interest in golf resurfaced. A tile representative asked if he wanted to participate in a Friday money game. The rep soon realized Hailes still had serious game, occasionally posting rounds in the 60s. “Like dude, why aren’t you still playing?” he inquired after looking up Hailes’ credentials.

By then, Hailes had regained his amateur status. He joined Arrowhead Country Club in Glendale and got into a regular Saturday game. He met his current wife, Crysta, who encouraged him to chase his golf dreams. The couple will welcome a girl in December, and Hailes has already christened his specially made putter with her name (Giana) on the bottom.

The final step was filing a U.S. Mid-Amateur entry, which Hailes was reluctant to do without some extra prodding from his wife. He returned to his old stomping grounds on Aug. 30, the University of New Mexico’s Championship Golf Course, and carded a 67 for medalist honors. Hailes was now back in a USGA championship for the first time since the 2001 U.S. Amateur, which coincidentally was contested at East Lake Golf Club, just 45 minutes south of the Capital City Club and Atlanta National Golf Club, site of this week’s championship. 

Scott Hailes with his hardware from winning the 1995 U.S. Junior Amateur. (USGA Archives)

Upon qualifying, he received a text from fellow U.S. Mid-Amateur competitor Brandon Hargett, whom he roomed with during the 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links in Hawaii. The two played a practice round on Thursday at Capital City Club.

Hailes would certainly love to revive that run he had 22 years ago. That week, he was taken to the 18th green in four of his matches but always prevailed.

“I love match play,” he said. “Guys don’t like me in match play because I hit it all over the park and still find a way to make par. That makes people angry.”

That kind of mettle worked against Driscoll in that 1995 final. Hailes followed a clunky approach shot on 16 by chipping in for par to win the hole. With the match all square on 18, and Driscoll over the green in regulation, Hailes calmly found the green with his approach and managed to two-putt from 28 feet above the hole.

“I felt pretty good the whole [week]. I was calm. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

Easy to explain or not, Hailes is hoping to have another magical week 22 years after his first one.

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

More From 37th U.S. Mid-Amateur

More from the USGA