RICHMOND, Texas (Sept.20, 2011) – After spending nearly 15 hours at both The Houstonian Golf & Country Club and Shadow Hawk Golf Club on Monday, 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur medalist Michael McCaffrey was happy to enjoy a much shorter stay Tuesday.
The 41-year-old reinstated amateur from League City, Texas, played just 29 holes in winning three matches and advancing to the quarterfinals on the 7,170-yard, par-72 Shadow Hawk layout. McCaffrey, whose first-round match on Monday was suspended by darkness after 19 holes, started at 8 a.m. (there was a 30-minute fog delay) and quickly eliminated No. 64 qualifier Chad Bolt of Bellafontaine, Ohio, on the par-4 second hole, their 20th of the match.
McCaffrey then wasted little time jumping out to a 5-up lead on Chris Congdon of Foxboro, Mass., en route to a 3-and-2 second-round victory.
In the afternoon, McCaffrey’s performance was even better, as he shot the equivalent of four under par (with match-play concessions) over 12 holes in beating 2010 Mid-Amateur quarterfinalist Anthony Barrera of San Jose, Calif., 7 and 6.
All seven of the third-round matches had yet to conclude by the time McCaffrey had returned to his host family’s residence near the golf course. A club member, Buzz Baker, has housed McCaffrey this week, allowing him to avoid the commute to his residence an hour south of Shadow Hawk.
“I don’t mind that at all,” said McCaffrey, who played briefly on the Buy.com Tour in 1993 and later competed on various mini-tours before getting his amateur status back this past February. “I am tired and ready to go rest.”
McCaffrey birdied the first three holes against Barrera and never looked back. He said it was similar to the golf he played in qualifying when he shot a pair of 68s at The Houstonian and Shadow Hawk. The Houstonian, which is adjacent to Shadow Hawk, was the companion stroke-play qualifying course.
“I would take that round of golf any day,” said McCaffrey, who added that he’s battled a stomach ailment this week. He said Monday night was the first meal he has eaten since Friday. “I don’t know if I caught a little bit of a stomach flu, [but] I was wondering if I was going to get through Saturday. I was nervous about it.
“I am really going to enjoy tonight … and eat a good meal.”
Joining McCaffrey in the quarterfinals are two-time defending champion Nathan Smith, 33, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Randal Lewis, 54, of Alma, Mich.; Michael Stamberger, 39, of Plainfield, N.J.; John Engler, 32, of Augusta, Ga.; Michael Muehr, 39, of Potomac Falls, Va.; Tony Behrstock, 44, of Los Angeles; and
All of the quarterfinalists are exempt into the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Conway Farms in suburban Chicago.
Besides Smith, Lewis is the only remaining competitor to have played in a USGA final, having lost the 1996 Mid-Amateur title match to John “Spider” Miller at Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford, Conn. He also is vying to become the oldest Mid-Amateur champion by five years. George Zahringer was 49 when he won in 2002 at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Conn. Lewis earned his quarterfinal berth with a 1-up win over 2010 Mid-Amateur quarterfinalist Scott Harvey of Greensboro, N.C.
Behrstock, meanwhile, was one of the last players in the match-play draw, having survived a 20-for-3 playoff on Monday at The Houstonian. He defeated Aaron Hickman of Dallas, 2 and 1, in the third round, completing a day in which he played 2¼ matches totaling 36 holes. Behrstock was one of 20 players who had to complete first-round matches Tuesday morning.
Cook, meanwhile, played 39 holes, including a 2-and-1 third-round win over Matt Smith of Lubbock, Texas. He started the day shortly after 8 a.m. and finished at 7 p.m. CDT.
Smith, vying for a record fourth U.S. Mid-Amateur title and hoping to become the first male since Tiger Woods (1994-96 U.S. Amateur) to win the same USGA event three consecutive years, defeated Nicholas Biesecker of Staunton, Va., in the third round, 2 and 1. Earlier in the day, the two-time USA Walker Cup member (2009 and 2011) birdied seven of his last nine holes in beating Billy Jackson of The Woodlands, Texas, 5 and 4.
During a 19-hole stretch – his last nine holes against Jackson and first 10 against Biesecker – Smith was the equivalent of 10 under par, with the usual match-play concessions. He built a 5-up lead through nine holes against Biesecker before holding for the win.
“I played some of the best golf I’ve ever played in my life for 20-some holes,” said Smith, who has now won a record 15 consecutive matches at the Mid-Amateur. “I just had it all going. I was swinging great, putting it well and it just felt great. Everything was clicking. It’s been awhile, if ever, that I’ve played that well. I was fortunate enough this afternoon … that I managed to get up big early.”
Biesecker, a sports management agent for Blue Giraffe Sports, pushed Smith to the 17th hole before the two players halved the par 3 that ended the match.
Engler, who lost to Smith in the round of 32 last year at Atlantic Golf Club, also has been consistent through two qualifying rounds and three matches. The former PGA and Nationwide Tour player who regained his amateur status in 2010, defeated Rob Couture of Dallas, Texas, 4 and 2, and Michael McCoy of West Des Moines, Iowa, 5 and 4.
Getting off the course relative quickly also is a bonus for the left-hander. Eight years ago, Engler was involved in a horrific automobile accident in rural Georgia while returning from a hunting expedition at a family farm. He suffered a broken ankle and doctors thought he would not play golf again. Engler returned to professional golf, but the physical strain was too much and he eventually retired.
But he has regained his competitive edge since returning to amateur golf. Against McCoy, he took advantage of his opponent’s three-putt bogey on No. 7 before making a birdie at the eighth to go 3 up. A winning par at No. 10 pushed the advantage to 4 up and Engler drove the green on the 266-yard, par-4 13th hole with a 3-wood. A two-putt birdie from 10 feet put the match out of reach.
“I’m hitting a lot of fairways and making birdies and making putts,” said Engler. “That’s a pretty good combination in USGA events.”
As for the grind of possibly playing 36 holes again on Wednesday, Engler added: “We’ll know tomorrow. I walked nearly 36 holes at Atlantic last year. I’ll be propping my foot up a lot [Tuesday night] and icing it. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll tell you how I feel the first thing in the morning.”
The quarterfinal and semifinal matches are scheduled for Wednesday, and the 36-hole championship final will be played Thursday.