Michigan Native Gets Hall Pass to Oakland Hills
August 16, 2016 | Bloomfield Township, Mich.
By Stuart Hall
On most Mondays, when David Hall is at his nearby Birmingham, Mich., home, he heads to the office like most working-class people.
The start of the 116th U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club, though, was no ordinary Monday for the 45-year-old Hall. In fact, he was beginning to wonder if the day would ever arrive.
At 7:40 a.m. off the North Course’s first tee, with nearly 20 friends and family members watching, the Michigan native struck one of the championship’s opening tee shots. The shot came after what Hall guesstimates as being nearly 20 or so failed attempts to qualify for this national championship.
“It felt good,” he said. “I had a sense this morning that there are 312 guys here this week and 248 of them are going home at the end of [Tuesday], so why not just have fun with it.”
For the most part, Hall did.
On that first hole, a slightly nervous Hall opted to hit driver instead of his usual 3-wood “because it wasn’t going to be a ball that I was going to nuke,” he said of a roughly 250-yard drive that found the fairway.
Hall went on to shoot a 4-over 74. By sunset, after also swinging by the office of his newly created financial services business that bears his name, Hall was tied for 183rd.
“For making a double and bogeying my last two holes and not making many putts, 74 was not a bad number,” he said. “I still have a chance to make [the 64-player match play bracket].”
A chance, yes, but Hall will need to go low on the more demanding South Course on Tuesday afternoon, and likely get assistance from the field. In Monday’s opening round, the par-70 South Course played to a stroke average of 73.667, 1.59 strokes higher than the North Course.
Hall has probably played at Oakland Hills about 30 times through the years, but never in the condition the courses are in this week – long and tight fairways, thick rough and fast greens.
Still, the No. 4,579 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, can take satisfaction in checking off a box on his amateur golf bucket list.
“For an amateur, it doesn’t get any bigger than this,” said Hall. “If you’ve tried 25 times before and you haven’t made it, then you wonder what’s happening. Plus you go to the qualifier and there are 80 guys playing for three spots. So not only do you have to have a good day, but you need some good breaks, too.”
In July, Hall earned co-medalist honors in the sectional qualifier at Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield, Mich. This is his fourth USGA championship appearance, having twice represented Michigan in the USGA Men’s State Team Championship and reaching the Round of 16 in the 1996 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford, Conn.
Hall grew up in Grosse Pointe, an eastern suburb of Detroit that sits next to Lake St .Clair. He later attended the University of Michigan and walked on to the golf team as a freshman. Not until he was a fifth-year senior did Hall play substantially.
“I was a later bloomer,” cracked Hall, who was medalist in the 1995 North & South Amateur Championship at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort and Country Club and was named the 1996 Michigan Player of the Year.
During this latest offseason, Hall made some lower body refinements to his swing and is seeing the benefits of his work this summer. On Aug. 8 – a Monday, no less – Hall also qualified for next month’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at Stonewall Links in Elverson, Pa., shooting a 68 at the Country Club of Lansing (Mich.) to earn medalist honors.
Hall does not believe his game is limited by age. While he is more than double the 21.81 average age of this year’s field, Hall points to the 1998 U.S. Amateur at Oak Hill Country Club for inspiration.
That year, 44-year-old Tom McKnight, who had failed eight times to make his way through the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament but later played on the Champions Tour, squared off against long-driving Hank Kuehne, then 22, in the championship.
McKnight gave his younger opponent a stout fight before losing, 3 and 1. McKnight remains the last mid-amateur to reach a U.S. Amateur final.
“Distance is just one part of the game,” Hall said. “People get caught up in how much farther a guy can drive the ball, but if you can chip the ball and putt the ball, then you can beat a guy who hits it farther than you. So, I embrace it. I love all these college kids who bomb it all over the place. It’s fun to hang out with them.”
On a Monday or any other day. After all, it’s the U.S. Amateur.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.