3 Things to Know: Stroke Play
September 14, 2019 | Parker, Colo.
By David Shefter, USGA
The USGA’s 2019 championship season comes to a conclusion with the playing of the 39th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship – and the concurrent U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship in Flagstaff, Ariz. – where 264 competitors have gathered at Colorado Golf Club and stroke-play co-host CommonGround Golf Course hoping to add their name to a strong legacy of champions.
Golfers will play 18 holes on each of the two courses this weekend, with the low 64 scorers advancing to match play beginning on Monday at Colorado Golf Club. The champion not only receives a gold medal and custody of the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy for one year, but also an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club, along with a likely invitation to next year’s Masters.
Here are three things to know going into the stroke-play portion of the competition:
Kevin O’Connell bested fellow North Carolinian and hometown favorite Brett Boner in last year’s championship match at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club. Now living in Jacksonville, Fla., the former University of North Carolina standout and reinstated amateur will look to become the first repeat winner since Nathan Smith in 2009-10.
Since Randy Lewis, who ended Smith’s bid for a three-peat in the semis, won in 2011, the best run by any defending champion is the Round of 16 by Sammy Schmitz in 2016. Three players – Nathan Smith (2013), Michael McCoy (2014) and Scott Harvey (2015) – only reached the Round of 32, while Stewart Hagestad (2017) and Matt Parziale (2018) were eliminated in the Round of 64. Lewis missed the cut in 2012.
O’Connell, currently No. 72 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, has not posted a victory since last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, with his best finish in 2019 being third in the George L. Coleman Invitational at Seminole Golf Club. He failed to qualify for match play in the U.S. Amateur and North & South Amateur at Pinehurst, and he was 49th in the Porter Cup.
Perhaps a return to the Mid-Amateur will bring back some championship vibes.
Rocky Mountain High
USGA championships always are contested on challenging layouts under tough conditions. Adding altitude into the mix just adds to the difficult test. Colorado Golf Club sits at 6,100 feet above sea level – stroke-play co-host CommonGround is a few hundred feet lower – meaning players will have to make necessary adjustments to their distances. Generally, the ball goes 10 percent farther in altitude, but it can be more depending on a variety of factors, including weather.
While the 12 Coloradoans in the field will be fully accustomed to this situation, others likely will be paying close attention to their yardages during the two official practice rounds.
One player who should be quite familiar with the surroundings is Colorado Golf Club member Matt Call. Call, 41, of nearby Castle Rock, played his college golf at the University of Colorado from 1997-2001 and qualified for the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst as an amateur. Another local to keep an eye on is 63-year-old Kent Moore, of Centennial, the oldest player in the field and a member of the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame. The Colorado Golf Association board member will be playing in his 11th USGA championship. Michael Harrington, 47, of Colorado Springs, won the 2009 Colorado Mid-Amateur and reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur five years ago at Saucon Valley Country Club.
You might notice a few more international players in this year’s field. That’s a direct result of an exemption change by the USGA, regarding the WAGR. Previously, players had to be among the top 400 points leaders to earn an exemption. This year, the USGA amended that category to the first 30 age-eligible players in the WAGR, opening the door for players who reside a bit further down the WAGR. For international golfers, this was huge news. It’s not financially prudent for those golfers to fly thousands of miles for an 18-hole sectional qualifier. The new exemption allowed Jack Brooks and Laurie Owen, both of England; Andres Schonbaum, of Argentina; Alejandro Villavicencio, of Guatemala; and Lukas Michel, of Australia, to compete without qualifying. From this group, only Schonbaum had previously competed in the championship.
The change also strengthened the entire field, giving deserving domestic players a spot.
“Expanding the Mid-Am exemption categories to include the top 30 age-eligible WAGR players has been a very positive thing for the championship,” said Bill McCarthy, the director of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. “This change inherently strengthens the field, ensuring the best mid-ams from around the country and around the world will be participating. Along with offering an exemption into the following years U.S. Open to the champion, we believe this change has solidified the U.S. Mid-Amateur as the premier worldwide championship for this elite player demographic.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.