BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A pair of well-accomplished 40-somethings are off to a strong start against a talented field of 25-and-older players at the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
Todd White, 45, of Spartanburg, S.C., and Kevin Marsh, 40, of Henderson, Nev., shot rounds of 4-under-par 66 Saturday to share the lead after the first round of stroke-play qualifying at the Country Club of Birmingham.
White, a member of last month’s winning USA Walker Cup Team, birdied the last three holes on the par-70, 6,471-yard East Course, one of two courses being used during the championship’s two stroke-play rounds. A high school history teacher, White drove the green at the 297-yard, par-4 16th to begin his birdie run. He then hit a gap wedge for his approach shots to Nos. 17 and 18 to set up birdie putts of 6 and 4 feet, respectively.
“I managed my way around the golf course very well today,” said White, whose only bogey came on the par-4 ninth during his morning round. “I have always looked at this (stroke and match play) as two individual tournaments. I didn’t come here with the idea of just trying to make one of the top 64 (low scorers); I came here with the idea of winning stroke play.”
Marsh, who won the 2005 U.S. Mid-Amateur title, eagled the East Course’s par-5 sixth in the afternoon when he rifled a 170-yard, 8-iron to within 12 feet below the hole. However, the commercial real estate developer may have saved his round in the middle of the inward nine. He made a 30-foot putt for par on No. 14. After making bogey on the next hole, Marsh hit his tee shot just over the green on the par-4 16th and pitched to 6 feet for birdie.
“A lot of guys think you have to play perfect golf,” said Marsh about the two rounds of stroke play. “You don’t have to play great; you just can’t play bad. It’s really nice to play a good first round; you can play more conservative tomorrow.”
The U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final on Thursday, Oct. 10, starting at 7 a.m. CDT.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Jim Chang, 43, of San Marino, Calif., and Matthew Mattare, 27, of New York, N.Y., each carded 3-under-par 67s in the afternoon on the East Course.
Chang, who is playing in his third U.S. Mid-Amateur, played the outward nine in 4-under 31. He birdied Nos. 4 and 5 before sinking a 125-yard approach shot for eagle at the par-4 eighth. Chang made consecutive bogeys early on the inward nine but regrouped by holing a curling 30-foot birdie putt on No. 14.
“I was making putts but I knew the challenge was ahead,” he said. “It’s hard to keep it going. [The birdie at 14] really got my confidence back up.”
Mattare, who advanced to the quarterfinals at last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, made consecutive birdies on Nos. 6 and 7 to ignite his round. He hit the cart path with his tee shot at the par-5 sixth and then played his 130-yard approach shot under some tree limbs and onto the green for a two-putt birdie. Mattare followed with a 5-iron to within 3 feet at the 204-yard, par-3 seventh.
“Very happy about my score, but it’s mile one of a marathon,” said Mattare, who played in the last group of the day on the East Course. “It doesn’t mean anything unless you can follow it up.”
Four players are tied at 2-under par after the first round. Tim Jackson, 54, of Germantown, Tenn., and Jon Veneziano, 42, of Mount Dora, Fla., each had the best scores of the day with 69s on the par-71, 7,173-yard West Course. Mike McCoy, 50, of West Des Moines, Iowa, and Keith Unikel, 34, of Potomac, Md., had 68s on the East Course.
Jackson, the 1994 and 2001 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, recovered from a three-putt bogey on the first hole to birdie Nos. 6 and 7. He struck a sand wedge to within 2 feet on par-5 10th for the first of two consecutive birdies on the inward nine. Jackson, who kept his drives in the fairway throughout the round, made a 20-foot putt on No. 11 before leaving his approach short and bogeying No. 17.
“Shoot a better score,” said Jackson, when asked about his mindset heading into the second round of stroke play. “Keep the pedal down. Keep going through the same routines and the same thought processes and make aggressive swings.”
McCoy made five birdies against three bogeys. He drilled an 18-foot uphill birdie putt on the par-5 11th, his fourth birdie of the round, and sank a downhill 8-footer on No. 14.
“I am glad I played a good round; you always like to have a few acorns in your pocket,” said McCoy, who has advanced to match play in 10 of his previous 13 Mid-Amateur appearances. “I holed a couple of nice putts. I hit a lot of quality iron shots. [But] I hit a couple of drivers out of play and that’s where I made those bogeys.”
Paul Simson, 62, of Raleigh, N.C., was one of two players to record a hole-in-one during the first round. Simson, a two-time USGA Senior Amateur champion, hit a 148-yard, 8-iron into the hole on the West Course’s par-3 13th en route to a 1-under 70.
Brian DePasquale is the USGA’s manager of championship communications. E-mail him at email@example.com.