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Champs Parziale, Hagestad Among Many Inspired by Tiger September 23, 2018 | Charlotte, N.C. By Stuart Hall

Matt Parziale, who grew up idolizing Tiger Woods, played a practice round with the 9-time USGA champion at this year's Masters. (Matt Parziale)

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At one point during Stewart Hagestad’s sixth birthday party in 1997, he decided to wander away from his friends and the festivities. 

“My mother was reasonably freaked out because she was looking all over for me and she couldn’t find me,” said Hagestad. “She comes into the house to ask my dad if he had seen me, and I am sitting right there next to him, watching Tiger Woods on television at the Masters.”

Hagestad, a Newport Beach, Calif., native, was not the only kid watching a 21-year-old Woods make history that week at Augusta National Golf Club. Across the country in Brockton, Mass., 9-year-old Matt Parziale viewed in awe as Woods posted an unthinkable 18-under-par winning score to win by 12 strokes – records that still stand.

Hagestad, Parziale and thousands of other kids would continue to watch Woods dominate the game for nearly 15 years, inspiring a whole generation of new players. Hagestad and Parziale would grow up to become U.S. Mid-Amateur champions in 2016 and 2017, respectively. 

On Sunday as they completed their second round of stroke play in the 38th U.S. Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club and stroke-play co-host Carolina Golf Club, the two champions managed to catch a glimpse of Woods winning the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. The win was the nine-time USGA champion’s first victory since the 2013 World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational.

In the five-year period between wins, Woods was beset by injuries, surgeries and hasty comeback attempts. Wondering if Woods, a 14-time major champion, would be able to match or even surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major titles gave way to a simpler question: Will Woods just ever win again?

During Sunday's final round, Parziale, 31, recognized the Woods he grew up idolizing.

"It was like early 2000s all over again,” said Parziale, who received a letter of congratulations from Woods after winning last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur – also in the Atlanta area at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course – and played a nine-hole practice round with him at this year’s Masters. "He had a big lead [on Sunday] and everyone else in the field kind of melted except for [Billy] Horschel and Dustin Johnson. But Rory [McIlroy] had a bad day, Justin Rose didn’t have a good day. So it was like the old days where Woods just needed to go make pars.”

Woods shot a 1-over 71 on Sunday to win by two strokes over Horschel and four over 2016 U.S. Open champion Johnson. The win, though, concluded a captivating season that featured a number of near misses. In March, Woods tied for second at the Valspar Championship. In early July, he closed with three sub-70 rounds to tie for fourth at the Quicken Loans National. 

At the year’s final two majors is where Woods woke up the echoes. On Sunday at The Open Championship at Carnoustie he briefly led on the inward nine and ultimately tied for sixth. A month later at the PGA Championship, he shot a final-round 64 to put continual pressure on eventual champion and two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka. Woods finished second. 

While Woods was contending that Sunday at the PGA, Hagestad, 27, took a break from his preparation for the following week’s U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. He walked into a packed grill room.

“Must have been 300 people and the room was rooting for Tiger, waiting for him to do something heroic,” said Hagestad. "Tiger is in his own stratosphere. When he’s playing and playing well, it becomes can’t-miss television.”

Woods may be 42 and is more than 10 years past the last of his 14 professional majors at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, but Parziale believes he remains an influencer.

"Everyone says these new, young guys are different, but he’s still Tiger Woods,” he said. "He’s still in complete control of the game."

Hagestad’s vignette from this year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club underscores that point. Hagestad was on the range prior to a practice round, hitting balls next to friend Jon Rahm. 

“It was the craziest thing,” said Hagestad. "The range got really quiet, like something was different. I looked back at my caddie and didn’t see anything at first. Then I looked back again and Tiger Woods was walking across the range. It was like he was floating.

"Then people were coming out of the woodwork. It was almost like the popular girl in school walking across the cafeteria and everyone pretends to go about what they were doing, and tries not to look, but they can't help themselves.”

When asked how far Woods being relevant – and now winning again – pushes the needle, Parziale quickly interrupted.

“He is the needle,” he said. “When he’s playing and playing at a high level, even people who hate him will stop what they are doing to watch. It was just great to see him down the stretch do what he’s done so many other times before to win."

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.

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