LAKE FOREST, Ill. (Sept. 10, 2012) -- Medalist Brad Valois, 25, of Warwick, R.I., survived a tough first-round test on Monday to advance into the round of 32 of match play at the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at the par-71, 7,078-yard Conway Farms Golf Club.
Valois outlasted Kevin Wolf, 34, of Lodi, Calif., the final player to advance from Sunday night’s 9-for-4 playoff, 2 and 1.
The 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, for players ages 25 and older, consists of 36 holes of stroke play. The low 64 scorers advanced to match play, which features six rounds, including a 36-hole final scheduled for Thursday beginning 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.
Valois knew from experience that despite playing the lowest-seeded player, victory was anything but assured.
“I've had to do that several times myself and it's not always easy,” said Valois, a retirement and benefits specialist. “But sometimes it's actually easier that way because you don't have [high] expectations.”
Valois dropped the first two holes, but his birdie at the par-4 third and a bogey from Wolf at the ensuing par-4 fourth quickly squared the match.
Valois was never able to gain more than a one-hole advantage until closing the match on the 17th hole, as he and Wolf waged a back-and-forth battle.
“My opponent played pretty good,” said Valois, a three-time Rhode Island Amateur champion. “He had a couple chip-ins and made some good par putts to halve holes and keep some momentum on his side.”
A Valois bogey at the par-4 13th gave Wolf another lead late in the match. However, the 14th hole turned the match around for Valois when he converted a 25-foot birdie to square the match and eventually take the win.
“That gave me a little bit [of confidence] coming down the next three or four holes,” said Valois.
Valois faces a familiar foe in Tuesday’s second round. Fellow Rhode Islander Charlie Blanchard, 47, needed 19 holes to eliminate Dan Crockett, of Nashville, Tenn., and earn a match against Valois.
Valois estimates that he and Blanchard, both left-handed players, have played more than 100 rounds together. The duo is part of the three-man team that will represent Rhode Island at the USGA Men’s State Team Championship at Galloway National Golf Club in southern New Jersey next week.
“It will be kind of weird considering we flew all the way out here together just to play each other,” said Valois. “I'll have a lot of fun and I think it will be a great match.”
In a first-round match worthy of a championship-final pairing, three-time Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith, 34, of Pittsburgh defeated 2010 USGA Senior Amateur champion Paul Simson, 61, of Raleigh, N.C., 2 and 1. Simson was the oldest competitor in this year’s field.
Smith took an early lead with a birdie at the par-3 second and never trailed, shooting the equivalent of three under par, with the usual match-play concessions.
However, Smith knew better than to become complacent given Simson’s stellar playing record.
“I knew I better bring the A-game to the tee, that's for sure,” said Smith, who is attempting to become the first four-time Mid-Amateur champion. “He's just such a solid player – down the middle, a great putter, great short game. He just does it all.”
Stroke-play runner-up Todd White, 44, of Spartanburg, S.C., cruised to a 6-and-5 victory over Jon Lindstrom, of Broomfield, Colo.
“Any time you see a 6-and-5 final in an event like this, it’s a combination of playing well and your opponent having a little misfortune,” said White, a history teacher at Hilton Head Island High School. “My opponent got off to a little bit of a rough start and allowed me to get up early. From there, I played well and made it tough on him to come back.”
White will next face 25-year-old Mason Casper, of Springville, Utah. Casper, the grandson of three-time USGA champion Billy Casper, defeated Jason Higton, 3 and 2.
Canadian National Team member Garrett Rank, who celebrated his 25th birthday on Sept. 5, advanced with a 4-and-3 victory over Eric Williams. Rank and Casper are the youngest and second-youngest players remaining in the field, respectively.
Two-time Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson, 53, of Germantown, Tenn., advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Patrick Christovich, of New Orleans. Kevin Marsh, 39, of Henderson, Nev., who won the 2005 Mid-Amateur, eliminated Dan Horner, of Sandy, Utah, 1 up.
Joe April, 27, of Philadelphia, defeated 2011 Mid-Amateur runner-up Kenny Cook, 32, of Noblesville, Ind., 1 up. Douglas Hanzel, 55, of Savannah, Ga., who reached the round of 32 at last month’s U.S. Amateur and was the low amateur at this year’s U.S. Senior Open, fell to Virginia’s Ryan Patrick, 2 and 1.
Five matches required extra holes, including a 23-hole marathon that saw Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links caddie Casey Boyns defeat 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Tim Hogarth. At 56, Boyns is the oldest player left in the championship.