U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship Memories: Jay Sigel
September 30, 2015 | Far Hills, N.J.
By David Shefter, USGA
Few amateurs in the post-World War II era can match the success of Jay Sigel. The Berwyn, Pa., native, who lost in the 1961 U.S. Junior Amateur final, not only claimed consecutive U.S. Amateur titles in 1982 and 1983, but he also won three U.S. Mid-Amateur titles (1983, 1985 and 1987), and 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the second of those two titles. In 1983, he joined Bob Jones and Chick Evans as the only golfers to have won two USGA titles in the same year, a feat that has since been accomplished by four other golfers. He defeated Randy Sonnier, 1 up, at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver to win the 1983 Mid-Amateur. Two years later at The Vintage Club in Indian Wells, Calif., he beat rival and fellow Philadelphia-area golfer O. Gordon Brewer Jr. in the final, 3 and 2. He then defeated David Lind in 20 holes to take the 1987 title at Brook Hollow Golf Club in Dallas. Sigel also competed in a record nine Walker Cup Matches for the USA. A longtime insurance executive, Sigel turned professional at 50 and won eight Champions Tour titles.
As the only Mid-Amateur champion to have captured a U.S. Amateur title, what did it mean to you to win three Mid-Amateur Championships in the early days of the event?
Sigel: I was delighted when the event started in 1981. It made a lot of sense. There have been a lot of really nice winners and guys that this really meant a lot to. In my case, it meant a huge amount because it kept me in the game. It was another major tournament for me and to continue competing for the Walker Cup. I say that the USGA kept me in the game, and that enabled me to do some other things as I got older.
Only seven individuals have claimed two USGA championships in the same year. What did it mean to win the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1983?
Sigel: To have won my second Amateur, that blew my mind. I was very, very tired. I came to Cherry Hills [for the Mid-Amateur] and got to stay with some very close friends. I certainly was still tired. Thinking about winning two USGA events, I didn’t read about it and I didn’t know who had done it before or anything like that. So that helped. I liked Cherry Hills. I liked the climate. I liked the people. It just so happened that I slipped one by. It was tough. It was a tough year. I did everything I was asked to and more as a defending [U.S. Amateur] champion from 1982 to ’83. Then 1983 comes along and I defended, which was fabulous and then I did more things. I was really beat and I can’t believe what happened.
You have also played in a record nine Walker Cups for the USA. How much reverence do you hold for that competition?
Sigel: That’s a highlight for an amateur. That’s a real realistic goal. I think winning the Amateur is a very tough thing, but I tell the amateurs, [the Walker Cup] is a realistic goal and you should put it on your books to try to make it. The USGA has done everything it can to help the mid-amateurs and make it more of an amateur event.
Of the three Mid-Amateurs you won, is there one particular moment that stands out?
Sigel: Absolutely. At The Vintage Club in 1985, we had snow [in Indian Wells, Calif.]. [Course designer] Tom Fazio was there and I ran into the director of golf just the other day who saw this match I had against Seth Knight, an insurance broker from Atlanta. I was 5 down with six to go. He parred every hole coming in and I got to 18, got to extra holes and birdied the 19th hole. He had a birdie when I had an eagle. It is unbelievable. I had to apologize because you never want to get into that situation. I’ve learned when you get up, you get up further. He reminded of this and then the next thing that followed was playing my good friend [and fellow Philadelphia native] O. Gordon Brewer [in the championship match]. I guess I was the favorite, but he was expected to out-putt me, and if my game was true, it was going to be a tough match. He’s a tough competitor. I out-putted him and was fortunate to win.
Why were you so good in match play?
Sigel: I had to learn to appreciate it. I always thought that stroke play was the game and often times, I thought I was the better player, and I would be down the road against somebody who waxed me or edged me that shouldn’t be. So I had some conversations with some guys. Peter McEvoy from the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup Team was really the key. He said you’ve got to learn to appreciate it and all of the nuances. It’s a harder game than stroke play. In stroke play, you’ve got four days. But in match play, you’ve got three, four or five moments that you’ve got to perform.
You had the record for Mid-Amateur wins until another Pennsylvania native, Nathan Smith, surpassed the mark in 2012. What are your thoughts on Nathan breaking your mark?
Sigel: I have followed Nathan with great interest. It’s a great story. He’s a wonderful guy. He’s a breath of fresh air.