News & Opinion

Mid-ams find balance for golf and life

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Unless you’re a friend or relative, you probably couldn’t name any of the 264 competitors in the U.S. Mid-Amateur that began here over the weekend.

If you play tournament golf, you are a member of a special fraternity or sorority. To have a handicap index low enough to play in events run by your state or regional golf association means you’re in a club that makes up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all golfers in the U.S.

And if you’ve played in a USGA championship – or 57, as 56-year-old Mike McCoy from Iowa has – it’s even more exclusive. Simply to play in a USGA championship is the lifelong dream of many American amateurs, regardless of age. But to win, that’s the amateur mountaintop.

The U.S. Mid-Amateur was started in 1981 and was designed as a national championship for working amateurs. The U.S. Amateur had been taken over by college players, who essentially play golf full-time. The minimum age to enter the Mid-Am is 25. But there isn’t a maximum age. Dave Ryan, 64, of Taylorville, Ill., was the oldest player in the field.

After stroke-play qualifying Saturday and Sunday at Charlotte Country Club and Carolina Golf Club, the low 64 players entered match play beginning today (scores). The 36-hole match-play final will be Thursday at Charlotte CC. The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur is being held concurrently at Norwood Hills in St. Louis (scores).

For some of the elite mid-ams, the term “working” is sometimes questionable. There are players who play top tournaments all summer and are looked at as “professional amateurs,” such as 2016 U.S. Mid-Am champion Stewart Hagestad. Hagestad, 27, graduated from Southern California in 2013 and moved to New York to start a career as a financial analyst for a real estate firm. But he moved back to Los Angeles after winning the Mid-Am and played amateur golf full-time in the run-up to being chosen for the U.S. Walker Cup team.

Scott Harvey, 40, of Greensboro, N.C., who won the 2014 U.S. Mid-Am, lists his occupation as “property manager.” But as he said at the U.S. Mid-Am preview at Charlotte Country Club, he “doesn’t work a whole lot.”

In this year’s field, there are numerous financial planners, such as Nathan Smith, who has won the U.S. Mid-Am four times. Others are sales reps, who have flexible time to work on their golf games and play in tournaments. McCoy, who won the 2013 U.S. Mid-Am, is in the insurance business.

But the occupations represented in Charlotte run the gamut. Matt Parziale, the defending champion, is a firefighter with the Brockton (Mass.) Fire Department. Sam O’Dell, 40, of Hurricane, W.Va., has a family and cosmetic dentistry practice.

Jay Reynolds, 35, of Austin, Texas, is a tour manager for musician and singer/songwriter Monte Montgomery and American punk rock band NOFX. Kyler Sauer, 27, of Valencia, Calif., is a firefighter for the city of Burbank. Corby Segal, 47, of Santa Clarita, Calif., is a PGA Tour caddie.

Scott Shingler, 46, of Haymarket, Va., works as a dental assistant. Lewis Simon, 25, of Torrance, Calif., is a clinical research coordinator at UCLA Health and is working on his master’s thesis in applied epidemiology at Cal State-Northridge. Craig Steinberg, 60, of Agoura Hills, Calif., has degrees in optometry and law and has combined the two disciplines in his career.

Matt Sughrue, 59, of Arlington, Va., works as a marriage and family therapist and performance coach for athletes. Devaughn Robinson, 30, of the Bahamas, is a mechanical designer for an analytical instruments company.

Brad Nurski, 39, of St. Joseph, Mo., works as a conductor and switchman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. Kevin Moore, 36, of Athens, Ga., is an associate professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia. He received a National Science Foundation grant to study the increase of quantitative reasoning in the teaching and learning of mathematics.

Ben Hayes, 30, of Jacksonville, Fla., is a lieutenant in the Navy who pilots a P-8A Poseidon aircraft.

For most of these guys, making the U.S. Mid-Am field is the highlight of their year. And for the winner, a dream come true is waiting with the trophy. The U.S. Mid-Am champion gets a spot in the 2019 Masters and the U.S. Open. Some have criticized that invitation, rightly saying that the mid-ams aren’t competitive. In fact, only two U.S. Mid-Am champions have made the cut at the Masters: Jim Holtgrieve (1982) and Hagestad (2017).

Amateurs are the lifeblood of our game, and those who play at a national level, no matter their age, are to be admired. We can look up to those who hold down real jobs and can be found on practice tees in the evenings and on weekends, trying to get their games in good enough shape to compete.

If you know one of the 264 players in this year’s U.S. Mid-Am field, congratulate him. He deserves it. They all do.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf