by David Shefter
Richmond, Texas (Sept 21, 2011) – Randal Lewis took one look at the scoreboard adjacent to the clubhouse at Shadow Hawk Golf Club Wednesday morning and realized his Herculean task.
Confronting the 54-year-old from Alma, Mich., was a quarterfinal match against stroke-play medalist Mike McCaffrey of League City, Texas. If he could win that, he faced a possible semifinal duel against two-time defending champion Nathan Smith.
It’s one down and one to go.
Lewis eliminated McCaffrey, 3 and 1, on the 7,170-yard, par-72 layout to earn a final-four showdown against Smith at the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
Smith, a 33-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pa., rallied for a 2-and-1 victory over Michael Stamberger of Plainfield, N.J., in the second of four quarterfinal matches.
Also advancing to Wednesday afternoon’s semifinals were second-seeded John Engler (shown at left), 32, of Augusta, Ga., and Kenny Cook, 31, of Noblesville, Ind., both of whom produced 3-and-2 wins over Michael Muehr of Potomac Falls, Va., and Tony Behrstock of Los Angeles, respectively.
Lewis, the 1996 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up and 1999 semifinalist, rolled in two long birdie putts at Nos. 9 and 10 to get past the 41-year-old McCaffrey, who earned medalist honors by three strokes at 8-under-par 136 by shooting 68 at Shadow Hawk and another 68 at The Houstonian Golf & Country Club, the companion stroke-play qualifying course. He closed out the match with a 25-foot birdie at the par-3 17th hole.
“That was probably the difference in the match,” said Lewis, who had seven one-putt greens over his final nine holes in his third-round 1-up win over Scott Harvey on Tuesday afternoon. “I made those long putts. I’ve been putting pretty good this year. The greens are so fast. [But] you’ve got to putt well to get this far.”
Lewis and McCaffrey were all square going into the par-5 ninth hole. Lewis converted a 25-foot birdie from the fringe before McCaffrey missed from 12 feet. At the par-4 10th hole, Lewis made a 70-foot birdie to go 2 up. McCaffrey never recovered.
My mindset was not as good today,” said McCaffrey, who lives an hour south of Shadow Hawk. “I don’t know if I was mentally prepared to play. There’s no excuses. He played decent enough to win.”
With two more victories, Lewis will become the Mid-Amateur’s oldest champion, surpassing 2002 champion George Zahringer, who was 49.
“I was tired this morning,” said Lewis, happy to have a 90-minute break between matches. “I am glad I have a nice break between rounds. I am going to eat, shower and watch the Golf Channel.”
Smith, bidding to become the Mid-Amateur’s first four-time champion, also was happy to get out of the Texas heat after a hard-fought win over Stamberger. Stamberger birdied the first two holes and carried a 2-up lead into the second nine.
That’s when Smith, a two-time USA Walker Cup participant (2009 and 2011), made his move, winning holes 10 and 12 to get all square. Stamberger birdied the 13th hole, but Smith answered with birdies at 14 and 15, the second of which was conceded from 10 feet, to take his first lead of the match. He won No. 16 with a par and followed with a birdie at the par-3 17th to seal the victory.
Smith has now won a record 16 consecutive Mid-Amateur matches dating back to the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur, where he lost in the first round.
Two more victories would make him the first male golfer since Tiger Woods to capture the same USGA event three consecutive years. Woods won the U.S. Amateur from 1994-96.
“It was tough,” said Smith of the match. “I gutted it out. All the putts I made yesterday just dried up, at least on the front side.
“I feel OK. My caddie (father Larry Smith) is hanging in there. I am just going to eat lunch and take it easy [my semifinal match].”
Engler, meanwhile, spent Tuesday night heavily icing down his ankle and leg. Eight years ago, he was involved in an automobile accident in rural Georgia that eventually forced the former Clemson All-American to retire from professional golf. Doctors thought he might never play again and Engler said he can only play one competition a month because of lingering pain.
He said he felt fine at the first tee against Muehr, who played the PGA Tour from 2001-03 before being diagnosed with cancer – it’s in remission – and eventually regaining his amateur status.
The two were all square through seven when Engler took the lead for good with a par at the eighth. He got up and down for a winning par at No. 12, then drove the short par-4 13th hole and two-putted for birdie and a 3-up lead. He also won 14 for a 4-up lead and closed the match out at the 16th hole. In four matches this week, the left-hander has yet to play beyond the 16th hole.
“I hit it solid today,” said Engler. “I don’t think I scored very well and I don’t think Mike played his best. You hate to see that when you get this far in the game. I was very fortunate to be able to win holes where I needed to win holes.
“Physically, I feel a lot better than I thought. I’m sure there has to be some adrenaline. You have to take it all in stride, walk a little slower and do the things you need to do [to avoid getting fatigued].”
Cook never trailed in his match against Behrstock, taking the lead for good with a birdie-2 at the 210-yard fourth hole. He rolled in a clutch 10-foot birdie at the par-5 ninth after Behrstock had converted his 15-foot birdie putt to remain 2 up. Behrstock won No. 10 with a birdie, but Cook won the 11th hole and never was threatened again.
“It was back and forth there for a while until I made the birdie putt on four,” said Cook, whose wife, Lisa, competed in this week’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur (missed match-play cut). “Then I settled down a little. I didn’t really pay much attention to what he did. I just tried to play my game. I definitely didn’t putt well, but I hit a lot of quality shots when I needed to.”
The two winners from this afternoon’s semifinals will play in the 36-hole championship match on Thursday.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur is one of 13 championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.