BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Given the size of the field and limited daylight at this time of year, getting all 264 U.S. Mid-Amateur competitors around the two golf courses at the Country Club of Birmingham is a challenge for USGA officials.
With sunrise at 6:17 a.m. CDT and sunset at 6:32 p.m., the window to complete a round of stroke play – barring no weather delays – is small.
That’s why the USGA, which has made it part of its mission to make golf faster to play, utilizes a check-point system for pace of play that is a vital component to the championship.
Started in 2006, the check-point system enables the USGA to properly monitor the time it takes for groups to play a certain number of holes. Players must either meet the maximum allowable time or stay within 14 minutes of the group in front of them to avoid receiving a warning. A second missed time can result in a one-stroke penalty for the entire group or an individual player if he or she is deemed to be the culprit.
Many state and regional golf associations have also adapted the policy. The USGA establishes check points on holes 4, 9, 13 and 18. Some associations will only use 9 and 18 as check points, and others will do it every six holes. This week, the USGA is receiving assistance with the check points from the Alabama Golf Association.
Bill McCarthy, the director of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, carefully developed a maximum allowable time for the competitors to finish their stroke-play qualifying rounds on the East and West courses. He takes into account the difficulty of the individual holes, the time it takes to walk from greens to tees and where possible hold-ups might occur – reachable par 5s, for example.
He also used his sunrise and sunset figures to allocate when the morning and afternoon waves would begin; in this case 7 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.
For the shorter East Course, the maximum time was 4 hours, 33 minutes. On the longer West Course, which will be used for match play, the time was set at 4:40. Virtually everyone in the field met their marks.
“It’s important to stress to players and officials this is not time-par,” said McCarthy. “It’s what is the slowest they are going to be allowed to play.”
McCarthy was encouraged by the numbers he saw in Saturday’s first round. No slow-play penalties were given and just nine warnings were issued. Some groups on the East Course played in 4:10. Play ended for the day on the East Course at 5:59 p.m., and six minutes later on the West Course.
“I think this field is really understanding the process and getting it,” said McCarthy. “They are adapting.”
Earlier in the week, McCarthy sent an email to the entire field, reinforcing the check-point policy and some key points of emphasis. He told the players if they receive a warning, react. He emphasized they would be monitored – not timed – if the group received a warning.
“We want to see who is making an effort, who is efficient over the ball and who is ready to play when it’s their turn,” said McCarthy. “And we actually look for the fast players, so if we do get in a liable-for-penalty situation, we know who caused them to get there. And that’s all discussed in scoring when they finish.”
Ace Up His Sleeve
Paul Simson has competed in nearly 50 USGA events since his first championship, the 1967 U.S. Junior Amateur, but he never had made a hole-in-one until Saturday when the 62-year-old from Raleigh, N.C., aced the 13th hole on the West Course. It was Simson’s 11th career hole-in-one.
“The ball is in the bag, but I’m not sure which one it is,” said Simson on Sunday after carding an even-par 70 on the East Course to easily advance to match play at 1-under 140.
He spent Saturday evening following golf tradition, purchasing $100 worth of drinks for fellow competitors. “They got me pretty hard to begin with,” said Simson. “Then most folks were gone because we were among the last few groups to finish.”
Simson, the 2010 and 2012 USGA Senior Amateur champion, will be the oldest competitor in match play.
“I felt like I could make the cut,” said Simson, who fell in the second round of match play two weeks ago in his Senior Amateur title defense at Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, N.C. “[The West Course] is a long course, but if you keep the ball in the fairway, you can get on a pretty good roll. I don’t have a problem reaching the greens in regulation.”
Simson kept his game plan simple for Day 2. He aimed for the middle of the greens and registered two birdies against two bogeys.
“Even par and cruise into match play,” he said. “You never know from there.”
Back In The Game
Since the beginning of the year, Patrick Duffy had been focused on two things: his private equity firm and the 2013 U.S. Senior Open at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club, where he is a member and served as the general chairman for the championship. Duffy played a key role in bringing the club to the attention of the USGA, and the event brought in record dollars in terms of corporate support and drew near-record attendance.
But all that work took its toll on Duffy’s golf game.
“I really didn’t play much until after the Senior Open,” said Duffy. “I played two events in April and one in June in Los Angeles (George Thomas Invitational at The Los Angeles C.C.).”
So qualifying for his second U.S. Mid-Amateur came as a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, Duffy shot 10-over 151 and missed the match-play cut.
“It was great to be back here,” said Duffy, who competed in his seventh USGA championship this week. “My game’s not that sharp. But I had a shot at [making match play] down the stretch.”
Ironically, Duffy qualified for the Mid-Amateur at Prairie Dunes C.C. in Hutchinson, Kan., where he is not only a member but also where he first began talks with the USGA’s Tim Flaherty about bringing the Senior Open to Omaha C.C. A scheduling conflict prevented Duffy from playing the Mid-Amateur qualifier in Nebraska.
“It’s about a four-hour drive,” he said. “It worked out great.”
As for the Senior Open, Duffy couldn’t have been more pleased.
“The community definitely will support those things,” he said. “And we had very positive feedback from the members.”
Several notables failed to advance to match play, including 2006 and 2008 Mid-Amateur champions David Womack and Steve Wilson, respectively. Wilson withdrew during the second round. The oldest player in the field, 66-year-old Mike Bell, also missed the cut. Bell won the 2006 USGA Senior Amateur. Reigning USGA Senior Amateur champion Doug Hanzel missed by five shots.
Other notables who won’t be in the 64-player draw are Jordan Byrd, the brother of PGA Tour player Jonathan Byrd; ex-Major League baseball players Chris Sabo and Mike Ignasiak, Raymond Floyd Jr. the son of 1986 U.S. Open champion Raymond Floyd; Mason Casper, the grandson of two-time U.S. Open champion Billy Casper; former UCLA quarterback Drew Olson; and John O’Donnell, the brother of actor Chris O’Connell.
Odds And Ends
Two current PGA Tour caddies survived the cut: Corby Segal (Briny Baird) and J.J. Jakovac (Ryan Moore) … Haymes Snedeker, the older brother of PGA Tour player and 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Brandt Snedeker, qualified for match play. Brandt just helped the U.S. win the Presidents Cup … Ex-big-league pitcher Erik Hanson (Seattle, Cincinnati, Boston and Toronto) improved his Mid-Amateur match-play streak to 4-for-4 … Four Mid-Amateur champions qualified: Nathan Smith (2003, 2009, 2010 and 2012), Tim Jackson (1994 and 2001), Randal Lewis (2011) and Kevin Marsh (2005) … Four recent runners-up also made match play: Bryan Norton (2003), Todd Mitchell (2008), Tim Hogarth (2010), Kenny Cook (2011) and Garrett Rank (2013).
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.