Biggest Fans Arrive Just in Time After All-Night Drive
October 8, 2015 | Vero Beach, Fla.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
At home in Farmington, Minn., Natalie Schmitz felt helpless on Wednesday evening shortly after her husband, Sammy, earned a spot in Thursday’s 36-hole final of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla.
Schmitz had watched her husband qualify for match play for the third time in three tries in the Mid-Amateur, and she saw him win his first three matches at John’s Island on Monday and Tuesday.
“I had to work on Wednesday, so I left on Tuesday,” said Schmitz of her husband’s championship run. “I was at work, watching online, hitting refresh, refresh, and his friend Jesse texted me between [the quarterfinal and semifinal] rounds and said, ‘Just so you know, if he wins, I’m going.’”
Jesse Polk and Jordan Hawkinson were planning to fly out of Minneapolis-St. Paul at 5:20 p.m. Wednesday, and Natalie was scrambling to join them on the flight to Orlando.
“I was freaking out, because I wasn’t going to make it,” said Natalie. “I told them, you guys go ahead. I was bawling my eyes out because I had to get there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
Schmitz picked up her daughters, Aubrey, 2, and Ally, 1, from daycare, but Polk and Hawkinson were having travel issues of their own. When Schmitz defeated Brad Wilder, 1 up, to reach Thursday’s final against Marc Dull, it was 3:25 Central Time, just inside the two-hour limit for them to purchase tickets online for the flight to Orlando. They drove to the airport to find that there was only one seat left on the flight. They passed it up, then huddled with friend Will Hickey to figure out an alternative.
“They called and asked me if I could get to the airport by 7,” said Natalie. “I threw my stuff in a suitcase and we flew to Atlanta, getting in at 10:30 or 11, then drove eight hours to Vero Beach. We got to the course just as Sammy was walking to the first tee. We watched him hit his tee shot, then ran and changed.”
Polk – for whom Schmitz will serve as best man at his wedding next spring – got about an hour of sleep, Hawkinson got two hours, while Natalie slept in the backseat for about 4½ hours before taking the wheel for the final two hours. “They kept telling me to go to sleep, or else I would be miserable,” said Natalie, whose airline ticket was covered by Hickey.
Natalie got onto the course in plenty of time to play forecaddie when her husband of five years hit a tee shot well to the right of the fairway on the par-5 sixth.
“I walk ahead of the match because I get nervous and I don’t want to talk to anybody,” she said. “The [marshal] with the paddles was pointing, and I thought, oh god, it’s coming right toward me. I saw his ball hit the tree and roll back. I could see there was a perfect area for him to shoot through.”
Buoyed by a high-five from Natalie, Schmitz managed to halve the par-5 hole after punching his ball through an opening, and he went on to take his first lead of the match on the next hole. Sammy Schmitz eventually pulled out a 3-and-2 victory, buoyed by a hole-in-one on the par-4 33rd hole.
Walking the course and agonizing over every shot was not the sole province of Schmitz’s wife. Leah Lindstamer, 27, is Marc Dull’s girlfriend of seven years, and they have a 2-year-old son, Cooper Jackson Dull. Lindstamer has seen the changes in her boyfriend that helped get him to this championship final.
“He has always had the talent, but he’s come a long way,” said Lindstamer, who began working as a beverage cart attendant at Streamsong (Fla.) Resort, where Dull caddies, four months ago. “He’s smarter, more mature, and he has more grace.”
Lindstamer was scheduled to work on Thursday, but her bosses at Streamsong gave her the day off to follow Dull. She was joined in walking the fairways by several fellow resort employees, including director of golf Scott Wilson and director of caddie services Troy Tomlinson, and she considered bringing her son.
“He’s very proud – he says ‘My Daddy hit that golf ball.’ Cooper loves to follow the ball, but we figured we’d better not bring him,” said Lindstamer.
“Sometimes, I just close my eyes,” added Lindstamer of the pressure of watching her boyfriend compete for the championship. “I haven’t watched him play in a tournament in a while. His body language tells us if he likes it or not.”
There is something to be said for being there. Just ask Natalie Schmitz.
“I thought for sure I was going to miss this,” she said, pointing at Polk and Hawkinson. “These were the two wonder men who pulled it off.”
Ron Driscoll is manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.