Steve Wilson, 38, of Ocean Springs, Miss., gained the lead with a birdie on the 13th hole and pulled away for a 5-and-4 win over Todd Mitchell, 30, of Bloomington, Ill., in the 36-hole final of the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship Thursday at Milwaukee Country Club.
With his win, Wilson earned custody of the Robert T. Jones trophy for a year and a probable invitation to the 2009 Masters Tournament.
“This is like hitting the lottery for me,” said Wilson, who has never been to Augusta National. “I never believed I could win anything this big.”
Wilson had never even won in match play before this week, but he quickly learned to like the format.
“I love match play. You can be super aggressive,” said Wilson, a gas station owner who was a “part-time” professional golfer for almost 10 years before being reinstated as an amateur in 2005.
“I never dreamed of getting to the Masters,” Wilson said about his professional days. “Just getting to the PGA Tour would have been plenty. And now for the Masters to be my first PGA Tour event is unbelievable.”
He took a 2-up lead against Mitchell with wins on the 13th and 15th holes before Mitchell earned a hole back with a winning par at 16.
Mitchell probably thought he would win one of the last two holes in the morning round as well. Wilson was in a greenside bunker on both holes and made mid-range putts to save par on each. To make matters worse, Mitchell three-putted the 18th hole to again fall 2 down.
“He’s a good player,” said Mitchell of Wilson. “He’s never out of a hole as he proved with his bunker play and good putting.
“What a difference a day makes,” Mitchell continued. “It’s difficult to have your best game each and every day. He was able to do that and I wasn’t.”
Wilson shot the equivalent of 1-under-par 69 for his morning round on the windswept 7,004-yard, par-70 layout. To begin the afternoon, Wilson was just as sharp and patiently built his margin to 5 up after 24 holes while holding Mitchell from taking any holes in a 14-hole stretch.
Mitchell did win the 12th (30th) hole in the afternoon, but it was too late. In all, Mitchell won only four of the 32 holes in the match. And when Wilson made the last of his 14 one-putts for par on the 14th hole (32nd), the match was over.
Wilson gained momentum as the week went on. He didn’t trail in any of his final three matches.
Mitchell, an insurance salesman and a 2002 graduate of Illinois State where he played baseball well enough to be drafted by the New York Yankees, survived a 19-man playoff on Monday after 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying just to advance to the 64-player match-play field.
The Mid-Amateur, open to players age 25 and older who meet the handicap requirement, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.