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U.S. MID-AMATEUR
No. 64 Seed Brown Topples No. 1 Seed, Makes Round of 16 September 28, 2021 | Siasconset, Mass. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Hayes Brown (left), the 64th seed, knocked out medalist Yaroslav Merkulov and Sam Straka (right) on Tuesday. (Chris Keane/USGA)

40th U.S. Mid-Amateur Home

What Happened

Hayes Brown, 32, of Charlotte, N.C., who got his spot in the match-play bracket of the 40th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship by holing out a 95-yard wedge shot, prevailed in two matches on Tuesday at Sankaty Head Golf Club, including a 1-up victory over No. 1-seeded Yaroslav Merkulov, of Rochester, N.Y.

Brown’s eagle 2 on the second hole of a playoff (the par-4 15th) prevailed in a 6-for-1 battle for the last spot in the draw on Monday afternoon, and he began his Round-of-64 match with Merkulov, 29, later in the afternoon. When play was halted by darkness after seven holes, Merkulov led, 2 up.

“I think my energy level was a little too high after just sneaking into the match-play field,” admitted Brown, who played at Wofford College. “I feel like I kind of gave away some holes, and I was glad we had darkness because I was a little emotionally exhausted.”

Merkulov took a 3-up lead through 12 holes on Tuesday morning, but Brown rallied to tie the match with back-to-back birdies, then a winning par on No. 15. His birdie 4 on the 544-yard 17th hole proved to be the difference.

“Match play is fickle,” said Merkulov, a former Duke University golfer who set the championship stroke-play scoring mark with a 36-hole total of 9-under 131. “I played well, shot 1 under, and the conditions aren’t easy. He made a really good birdie on 13 when he kind of had his back against the wall, then I missed three 6-footers in a row, and that’s all she wrote.”

Brown went on to roll past No. 33 seed Sam Straka, of Valdosta, Ga., 5 and 4, on Tuesday afternoon to set up a match with No. 17 seed Richard “Skip” Berkmeyer, of St. Louis, Mo., at 7:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday in the Round of  16. Berkmeyer, 47, edged Josh Nichols, of Morrisville, N.C., the runner-up in this championship in 2017, in 20 holes on Tuesday afternoon.

NHL referee and No. 2 seed Garrett Rank, of Canada, posted two wins on Tuesday at Sankaty Head to reach the final 16. (Chris Keane/USGA)

Garrett Rank, 34, of Canada, who is entering his fifth season as an NHL referee next week, is the only one of the top 12 seeds to reach the Round of 16. Rank made three straight birdies to close out 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links runner-up Cody Paladino, of West Hartford, Conn., 2 and 1, in the morning, then posted a 5-and-3 win over Matthew Galloway, of Tampa, Fla., in the afternoon.

“I’ve played the back nine well all week,” said Rank, the runner-up to Nathan Smith in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur. “I made six birdies on the back nine in stroke play, and I made four birdies in my match this morning. I just like the back nine. I hit some good shots, made a couple putts and hung in there on the few holes where I kind of got out of position.”

Stewart Hagestad, 30, the 2016 champion and the No. 13 seed, earned a 4-and-2 win over Brett Young, of Bethel Park, Pa., in the morning, then rode six birdies to a 5-and-4 victory over 2015 U.S. Mid-Am runner-up Marc Dull, of Winter Haven, Fla., 5 and 4, in the afternoon.

Drew Kittleson, 32, the runner-up in the 2008 U.S. Amateur; Brad Nurski, 42, of St. Joseph, Mo., the runner-up in this championship in 2014; and Nick Maccario, 29, of Haverhill, Mass., the lone player from the host state to reach match play, were among those to advance to the Round of 16.

No. 53 seed Doug Hanzel, of Savannah, Ga., the oldest player in the field at 64, won his morning match, 3 and 2, over Jimmy Ellis, of Venezia, Pa., but the 2013 U.S. Senior Amateur champion was ousted, 2 and 1, in the afternoon by No. 21 seed Christian Sease, 27, of Mount Pleasant, S.C. Sease’s girlfriend, Ashley Sloup, competed in the 2021 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in Bluffton, S.C., which is being played concurrently with this championship. Sloup lost in the Round of 64 on Monday.

What’s Next

The Round of 16 will begin at 7:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, and the quarterfinals are scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. The semifinal round will be played on Thursday morning, beginning at 7:30 a.m., and the first 18 holes of the 36-hole final is scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m. The second 18 of the final will be played on Friday, starting at 7:30 a.m. The championship was pushed to a Friday finish by more than five hours of fog delays during Saturday’s first round of stroke play.

Stewart Hagestad, the 2016 champ and 3-time USA Walker Cupper, was impressive in eliminating 2015 runner-up Marc Dull. (Chris Keane/USGA)

Notable

  • The last No. 1 seed for match play to lose in the Round of 64 was Matthew Mattare in 2013. Mattare was defeated by No. 64 Davis Boland, 2 and 1, at the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.). Before that, Nathan Smith, who is a four-time champion of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, ousted No. 1 seed George Zahringer, 1 up, as the No. 64 seed in 2007 at Bandon Dunes (Ore.) Golf Resort. Like Hayes Brown, Smith also won his Round-of-32 match in 2007, defeating Packard DeWitt, 1 up. In 2015, Matt Parziale was a co-medalist and the No. 2 seed when he was defeated by Justin Young in 19 holes at John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla. Parziale (2017) and Zahringer (2002) are also U.S. Mid-Amateur champions.

  • The starting field, which included players from 41 states and 13 countries, was whittled from 264 to 64 for match play on Monday. The match-play bracket included players from 27 states, led by North Carolina and California with six players apiece, five players from Pennsylvania, and four players apiece from New York and Texas. Georgia, Florida and Washington state had three players each. One player each from Puerto Rico, Canada, Panama and South Africa made up the international contingent for match play.

  • Merkulov became the fifth No. 1 seed in the last six USGA amateur championships of 2021 to lose to the No. 64 seed. That list also includes, in order: Rachel Kuehn in the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Mark Goetz in the U.S. Amateur, Tim Hogarth in the U.S. Senior Amateur, and on Monday, Jennifer Peng in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. Only Lara Tennant, in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur two weeks ago, won her Round-of-64 match. She went on to win her third straight U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur title. Rose Zhang also won the U.S. Girls' Junior in July as the top seed.

Quotable

“I have my dad on the bag, and he’s actually missing a guys’ golf trip to caddie for me. There’s nothing better. I’ll never forget holing out. That’s a moment you dream of and I will always remember.” – Hayes Brown, on earning his spot in match play with an eagle 2

“My dad just kept telling me to think you’re always down, regardless. It helped me think about taking conservative lines but make aggressive swings. I feel like I got some breaks, getting some pars early that won some holes, and then after that it was aim for fat parts of the green and just try to make pars and let him make a mistake.” – Brown, on his strategy after getting a lead in the Round of 32

“In this wind, it just kind of wears on people if you’re hitting a bunch of greens. I hit it great. Conditions are brutal. I’m very pleased with how everything went.” – Drew Kittleson, on his play on Tuesday

“You can’t take one second off in this wind. Most of the time you can play a par 4 and hit it in the fairway and have 100 yards in and hit a little wedge on the green, but in this wind, every shot [is demanding]. Whoever is the last man standing will have a really nice night’s sleep that night.” – Kittleson, on the demands of the wind that gusted to 35 mph

“I knew that, even being 3 up with 6 to play, nothing is a done deal. You’ve got to finish it, keep playing until it’s done. It’s tough, but I’ve got many more years with this hopefully.” – medalist Yaroslav Merkulov, on his loss in the Round of 64

“I’m exhausted right now. My feet hurt from the 30 holes that I played today. Just go get some rest for [Wednesday]. It’s still a long week. Nothing has been accomplished yet.” – Garrett Rank, the No. 2 seed

“It’s definitely different from two years ago when I was trying to get to [NHL] games in the middle of the [U.S. Mid-Am], work games and come back. I’m here to play golf this week and haven’t really thought about hockey at all. Once this week is over, I’ll start reading the rules and get back to work.” – Rank, on his NHL officiating schedule, which begins next week

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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