Joe McCormick hangs on for Minnesota Mid-Amateur win
2015 champion Joe McCormick (MGA photo)
2015 champion Joe McCormick (MGA photo)

ROCHESTER, Minn. — During the first two rounds of the 28th Minnesota Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship at Somerby Golf Club and Rochester Country Club, it was the wind that players had to contend with. On Thursday the weather caused problems on the golf course yet again as the final round was delayed by two hours.

When the skies cleared, Joe McCormick’s final round of 1-over par 73 at Rochester Golf and Country Club gave him a one-stroke victory over two-time champion Sammy Schmitz Thursday as McCormick claimed his first individual Minnesota amateur victory.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in anything like this so I had no idea what to expect from myself today,” McCormick said Thursday.

“At my age, I can still move it around good enough and I love to compete and play with these younger guys. It’s a thrill for me and it was a lot of fun. It’s a blast to play these good golf courses,” he said.

McCormick, Crow River Golf Club, opened the championship with a 3-under par 69 Tuesday at Somerby before carding a 70 during the second round Wednesday at Rochester, taking a two-stroke lead to Thursday’s final round.

Putting together an impressive front nine, McCormick rolled in just one birdie but would get up-and-down on four occasions to maintain his lead early Thursday.

McCormick found the trees right of the fairway at the par-4 second hole and would roll in his par putt to remain even for the round before dropping a five-foot par putt at the fifth after leaving his approach short of the green.

Missing another green at the seventh, McCormick saved par yet again before sinking his five-foot birdie at the par-4 eighth to move to 2-under for the championship. He would roll in another lengthy par putt at the ninth to turn at 1-under for the round.

McCormick would make back-to-back bogeys at the 12th and 13th holes to slip to even par for the championship, but answered by putting his approach at the par-4 15th hole to inside five feet, converting his birdie chance.

As rain began to fall once again late in the round Thursday, McCormick would run into troubles over the final three holes, missing the fairway from the tee box on each.

He left himself 25 feet for par at the 16th and would two-putt for bogey before three-putting for bogey from the right fringe on No. 17.

McCormick would carry a two-stroke lead over Schmitz to the final hole Thursday and made a second consecutive three-putt for bogey to hang on and win his first MGA Mid-Amateur title at 2-over par 214.

“I try to stay pretty even and don’t get too up or too down. During the last 18 holes, a lot of things can happen,” McCormick said after his round Thursday. “If you get in the wrong spot here—I missed the last three fairways and had no shot. [Fairways] started to look a lot smaller coming home.

“I played really solid on the front and felt like I was in control. I hit fairways and greens and made a couple of putts. I had some good saves and par putts to keep momentum going—and they were not tap-ins—so that was big. I was trying to shoot even par on the back and if I was 1-under, someone was going to have to shoot really good on the golf course.”

A good season for McCormick got even better Thursday as he now has one victory with seven top-20 finishes for 2015. He qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship a week ago at Edinburgh USA and will travel to John’s Island, Ga., for the championship next month.

“I’m looking forward to that,” McCormick said of competing at the national level in October. “It’s nice to be under the gun and see how you react and see what you need to work on. I’ve played for a long time and if you play good at the right time, anybody can win something. All you can hope is that you go to the U.S. Mid-Am and it’s clicking that week because anything can happen.”

McCormick’s only other amateur victory came in 1990 when he won the MGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship at St. Cloud Country Club.

Attending California State University-Stanislaus, McCormick earned Division III Third-Team All-American honors in 1987 and would turn professional in 1992 and played for nine years.

After losing sight in his right eye after an accident, McCormick quit playing golf for over a decade.

Regaining his amateur status approximately five years ago, McCormick said his desire to compete brought him back to the golf course.

“I just started up about four years ago and just played for fun, but before that I, literally, didn’t touch a club for ten years. I had young kids and didn’t want to be out there. Plus, having one eye, I think golf is hard enough.”

"It comes and goes," McCormick said of the vision in his right eye thesedays, even after receiving a corneal transplant. "It's not as bad as it sounds and you get used to it. But I didn't see a ball hit the green today."

Schmitz, who won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012, finished in second place for the second time in three years Thursday as Schmitz struggled off the tee for most of the day.

After taking a bogey on the opening hole, Schmitz rolled in a birdie from six feet at the par-3 third hole to remain at 1-over for the championship, but would card three bogeys over the final six holes on the front nine to turn at 4-over.

Back-to-back birdies at the 10th and 11th holes would give Schmitz a slight boost as he moved back to 2-over for the tournament, but would grind out six pars with a bogey over the final seven holes to shoot 72 and finish second at 215.

“It was a slow start today and my game felt really loose,” Schmitz said Thursday. “I’m moving around a lot in my swing so when I catch it, it’s good and when I don’t, it’s real bad. I had a lot of bogeys today and missed a couple of short putts, but I felt like I was still in it for most of the day until the last couple of holes—I just didn’t capitalize.”

“[McCormick] played safe and did what he had to do. I got in trouble off the tee and my recovery shots were really good, but I was loose with my longer irons and didn’t produce. I gave myself some good chances to get up-and-down. These are tough courses, though, and I think a lot of guys might say the same thing,” he said.

Schmitz, Valleywood Golf Course, also qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship next month, but admitted that he’s got some work to do before returning to the national stage.

“I need to get my game in shape. Every other U.S. Mid-Am I’ve gone into it feeling really good about my game but I feel really rusty right now,” Schmitz said.

Jeff Ferron began the Thursday’s final round tied for second with Schmitz just two shots back of McCormick and would card a 3-over par 73 on the final day to finish in third place at 216.

Ferron, Southview Country Club, overcame a pair of early bogeys Thursday to turn at 2-over for the day before sinking two big birdie putts early on the back to pull within one shot of McCormick.

A double-bogey at the 17th put Ferron back at 3-over for the championship and with a bogey on the final hole, Ferron finished third at 216.

Jesse Polk, Somerby Golf Club, fired a final-round 66 Thursday to finish alone in fourth place at 217, while John Anderson, Bunker Hills Golf Club, finished fifth at 6-over par 218.

ABOUT THE Minnesota Mid-Amateur

In 1988, the MGA Mid-Amateur Championship was introduced at Edina Country Club. It is similar to the Amateur except participants must be 30 years or older and have a handicap index of 6.4 or lower. The low 54-hole score determines the winner. It is one of the most popular events, aside from the Amateur, as 264 players start the championship with aspirations of the title.

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