Following A Dream: A Mid-Amateur's Diary (Part II)

May 8, 2009

By Robert Williams

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of first-person articles about one man’s quest to compete in a USGA national championship — the U.S. Mid-Amateur.

Chapter 2 – Applying to Play

We all need to take better care of Mother Earth, so let’s give the USGA some credit for reducing paper use with its online application process. Of the approximately 4,500 applicants to the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, only 264 players will make it through 68 sectional qualifying events held around the country to gain a spot in the two stroke-play rounds of the competition, conducted Oct. 3-8 at Kiawah Island Club’s Cassique. From there, the field is cut to the low 64 players, who will then compete in match play to determine the champion.

Robert Williams did his homework before choosing a sectional qualifying site for the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur. (John Mummert/USGA)

So, only about 5 percent of those who apply to the championship make it to the stroke-play rounds, and only 1 percent make it to match play, but I can’t focus on percentages. That is like standing on the 17th tee at TPC Sawgrass and saying to yourself, "don’t hit it in the water."

Being an optimist and student of history, I look at qualifying another way. Based on USGA records for qualifying, you need to shoot anywhere from 1 under to 4 over par to qualify. A lot depends on the site you choose. Some qualifying sites have one spot (Anchorage, Alaska, for example) while others have eight. There are a number of qualifying sites in the metro New York area, so I have the option of choosing among sites with multiple qualifying spots.

You might think I am getting ahead of myself, but as a part of the application process you need to select a first choice for your qualifying site. If you apply early, as I am doing, you are likely to get your first choice, but it is not guaranteed.

When the Mid-Am application was released on April 27, it contained a list of the qualifying sites from which to choose. The list indicates where, when and the size limit of the field for each location. By looking at the 2008 qualifying numbers, you can get some idea of the strengths of the fields from last year by region. I know of some people who have traveled far to what they think is a more favorable region in order to qualify. But with the twice-nightly feeding for two newborns, I cannot even consider going outside of the tri-state area. If I want to stay married, that is.

It is most important for me to find the course that best suits my game. Ideally, I would know and have played one of the qualifying courses. Ideally, I would also play golf regularly and have more than five minutes a day to practice my swing. Since neither is the case, I looked at scorecards online and satellite images of the routing (via Google Earth). I also talked to people who have played the courses to get a sense of their style to see how they may or may not suit my game. I am a fairly long hitter, and historically I am as likely to shoot 72 on a 7,200-yard course with a course rating of 74 as I am to shoot 72 on a 6,700-yard course with a rating of 69, so I like my chances better on a longer, tougher course.

Based on the above, I narrowed my choices down to The Links G.C. in southern New Jersey, Navesink C.C. in northeastern New Jersey and Gillette Ridge G.C. near Hartford, Conn. Based on my research, I chose Gillette Ridge G.C. It is a 7,200-yard Arnold Palmer design and has a course rating of 74.8. Looking at the routing and course photos, it is fairly similar in style to a few longer courses that I have played in the past, such as the Architects G.C. in Lopatcong, N.J., and the Links at Union Vale in LaGrangeville, N.Y. It is also a daily-fee course, which means that in addition to a practice round, I will be able to play it a few times this summer in advance of the qualifying round, which will be held in late August.

One other factor has also come into my selection since my last diary entry, which is that the lifelong friend who taught me the game, Ashley Brasfield, has decided to try to qualify for the Mid-Am as well (another gracious wife). Even though we only get to play about five times a season, our straight-up matches are the most satisfying competition of the year. It is great to have a goal to work toward in the golfing season with my archrival on the links. Ashley plans to qualify at The Links G.C., which is near his home in the Philadelphia area.

We plan to play our practices rounds together, work on "game plans" and then caddie for one another during the qualifying round. Having a great friend as a partner in this adventure will inspire my competitive spirit in getting ready and give me confidence under fire. In addition, the potential for bragging rights relating to qualifying is very high, which can only fuel our rivalry.

With a qualifying strategy in place, the online application process couldn’t be simpler. It takes about as long as paying a utility bill online, but is a lot more fun way to spend $125. Look at it this way, I get a practice round, the qualifying round and, if I qualify, practice and championship rounds at the Kiawah Island Club’s Cassique and The River Course (second stroke-playing qualifying venue). As if this weren’t enough, next year’s USGA membership is usually renewed for just attempting to qualify. I am not going to get a better golf package anywhere!

The next step in my attempt to qualify for the Mid-Am will be a video golf lesson to get my swing on the right track for the season, which will be the subject of the next installment – preparation.

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