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Final Was Epic Battle Between Friends, Budding Rivals September 15, 2016 | Elverson, Pa. By Dave Shedloski

Stewart Hagestad (left) and Scott Harvey have developed a mutual respect for each other and it continued on Thursday at Stonewall. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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The match was competitive, convivial and compelling. It brought two friends together, and it brought out their best golf – arguably some of the finest we’ve seen this year in any championship. It went the distance. And then some.

In other words, it was everything you could want from a championship final.

That’s the takeaway from the deciding match of 36th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship Thursday, in which Stewart Hagestad rallied from 4 down with five to play to stun 2014 champion Scott Harvey in 37 holes at Stonewall.

“It was a heavyweight fight, with two great players going toe-to-toe,” mused Hagestad’s caddie, the veteran John Doherty, who has caddied in more than 50 USGA championships but had never shepherded a winner until Thursday.

Of course, in golf there is nothing you can do to block the punches your opponent might throw at you, and Hagestad, who never led until the last hole, threw haymakers down the stretch. A Southern California native who now makes his home in New York City, Hagestad, 25, birdied seven of the last 12 holes –- and five of his last six – to author the largest comeback in the 36-year history of the championship.

“It’s one thing to give it away and it’s another to get beat like that,” said Harvey, 38, of Greensboro, N.C. “He just made some incredible birdies coming in. Nothing I could do about it.”

Harvey wasn’t the only victim of Hagestad’s late kicks on the Old Course. Winner of the Metropolitan Golf Association Amateur earlier this summer, Hagestad won 21 holes and lost only six on the inward nine in the six match-play rounds he played at the Old Course.

“I was actually a buzz saw there at the end,” Hagestad admitted later in a frank but not arrogant way. He wasn’t wrong.

“He wanted this so bad,” said Doherty, who first worked for Hagestad at last year’s U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. “He was a beast all week on the back nine.”

Hagestad earned a likely invitation to the 2017 Masters Tournament, but his real motivation was on his hat, a logo of the 2017 Walker Cup Match that will be conducted at Los Angeles Country Club, where Hagestad’s father, John, is a member and where Stewart was  accepted as a junior member last year.

“It would be an absolute dream come true,” he admitted when asked about his Walker Cup aspirations.

The purity of the golf Thursday was mesmerizing, and the fact that the match went longer than any previously in Mid-Amateur history – the 36-hole final was instituted in 2001 – was a testament not only to the players, but also to the USGA’s decision to experiment using two courses for a final for the first time in any championship.

“It came out exactly how we wanted it to, and how we hoped it would,” said Bill McCarthy, director of the Mid-Amateur. “It showcased the strengths from both players. Maybe one course fit one player and the other fit another player’s game, but it was a well-rounded presentation and challenge. There was a great balance.”

Balance. That’s an appropriate term in considering the hallmark of the final match. We’re not referring here to the balance of the competition so much as to the outpouring of sportsmanship throughout, the palpable feeling of grit and grind amid mutual respect.

Harvey and Hagestad became friends earlier this year during the George C. Thomas Invitational at Los Angeles Country Club. Harvey triumphed in a four-hole playoff, and then at last month’s U.S. Amateur they found themselves among 23 players vying for eight match play spots. They were paired together during that overtime session at Oakland Hills Country Club with Harvey eventually garnering the last spot and Hagestad getting eliminated on the seventh playoff hole.

“He might have a little fire in his belly for me,” Harvey said jokingly Wednesday after learning who his opponent would be in the final.

Turns out that a few hours later they would fill their bellies together, sharing dinner at Pizzeria Uno in nearby Exton. Harvey tweeted a photo of the occasion. It was touching. And it was telling.

Then they had to meet on the first tee of the North Course at 7:45 a.m. EDT the next morning and engage in a classic battle peppered generously with classic camaraderie.

After Hagestad stuck an approach to 3 feet on the par-4 22nd hole, Harvey responded with his own laser to 6 feet. Though 5 down at the time, Hagestad walked backward to greet Harvey and put a hand on his opponent’s shoulder. They talked the length of their walk to the green. And then they made their respective birdie putts.

Each man birdied the 23rd hole, too. Their tee shots into the downhill par-3 hole on the Old Course ended up maybe 8 inches apart and the same distance to the hole, 27 feet. Harvey drilled the putt for his third birdie in five holes. Hagestad then calmly converted on top of him. They shared a smile and another back-slap as they walked to the sixth tee, the 24th of the match.

On the final green, the par-3 ninth, after Hagestad dropped his 14-footer for birdie and the victory to complete his furious comeback, the two men shook hands and then hugged. Before they left the green they hugged again. And when Harvey received his silver medal at the closing ceremony in Stonewall’s clubhouse, they shared one more embrace.

Hagestad then was summoned to the podium to accept his gold medal. Harvey stood to clap. When the rest of the room was slow to follow, he motioned with both arms for them to stand. Harvey then was the last to sit.

“He’s one, if not the shining standard in amateur golf,” Hagestad said later of Harvey. “I absolutely feel for him. Scott is such a great guy and he is such a great competitor, And he’s a friend more than anything else.”

You can’t ask for more than that, when two gentlemen compete earnestly and with mutual admiration and then they carry that respect through to the conclusion and beyond.

Hard fought win but no hard feelings. Hard to top that.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites. 

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