BETHLEHEM, Pa. (Sept. 11, 2014) — Scott Harvey, 36, of Greensboro, N.C., defeated fellow stroke-play co-medalist Brad Nurski, 35, of St. Joseph, Mo., 6 and 5, in Thursday’s 36-hole championship match of the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, conducted on the par-71, 7,076-yard at Saucon Valley Country Club's Old Course.
Harvey, a real estate property manager competing in his seventh consecutive U.S. Mid-Amateur, was the equivalent of 3 under par over 31 holes, with the usual match-play concessions.
The victory earns Harvey, No. 109 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, custody of the Robert T. Jones Memorial Trophy for one year, a gold medal, a 10-year exemption from qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur, exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateurs and a likely invitation to the 2015 Masters in April. He also receives an exemption from local qualifying for the U.S. Open for the next three years.
“I just can’t really put it into words,” said Harvey. “This tournament has been my No. 1 goal every single year. I can’t even put it into words.”
Nurski, a railroad conductor and switchman who was playing in his second U.S. Mid-Amateur, but first in six years, is exempt for the next three U.S. Mid-Amateurs and next year’s U.S. Amateur. He also is exempt from U.S. Open local qualifying next year.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur, for golfers 25 and older, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. The championship began with two rounds of stroke-playing qualifying on the Weyhill and Old Courses last weekend and was followed by six match-play rounds on the Old Course.
In only the second matchup between co-medalists in the 34-year history of the championship, Harvey grabbed a 4-up advantage following the morning round and then withstood an early rally by Nurski at the outset of the afternoon round before pulling away.
Harvey admitted to being anxious to play the final. He woke up at 12:08 a.m. Thursday morning and never went back to sleep. But he never publicly showed signs of exhaustion, crediting his caddie and close friend Rocky Manning for keeping him focused on the match and not the exemptions that come with being the champion.
“I’m tired, but you can’t let that stop you,” said Harvey, who was taking Ibuprofen for a sore back. “My back was tingling all day [Wednesday]. It was tingling all day today.
“Rocky, my buddy, was saying, ‘Look, you belong here, believe it.’ And that’s what we did.”
In between rounds, Nurski, who missed 10 of 14 fairways in the morning round, found something on the practice range to correct his ball-striking and it appeared to work, at least for the opening three holes. Birdies on 19 and 21 – with a winning par on No. 20 – quickly trimmed the deficit to one hole.
Harvey, however, squashed any hopes of a major comeback by making a challenging downhill 10-footer for birdie on the par-3 22nd hole. Nurski’s spirits dampened one hole later when he failed to get up and down for par after a wayward tee shot.
“I didn’t play badly, I just didn’t play good enough,” said Nurski, who was vying to become the Mid-Amateur’s first left-handed champion and just the sixth southpaw to claim a USGA title. “Obviously, he is a wonderful golfer and his résumé speaks for itself. No regrets for me.”
Harvey, who played collegiately one season at Division II West Florida in Pensacola, Fla., before transferring to Division I High Point University in North Carolina, birdied the par-3 27th from 22 feet for a 4-up advantage and when Nurski three-putted No. 28, the margin ballooned to 5 up.
The exclamation point came at the par-4 30th hole, as Harvey punctuated his 16-foot uphill birdie with an emphatic fist-pump. Nurski still had a chance to halve the hole, but burned the left edge from 8 feet.
After Wednesday’s 1-up quarterfinal win over 2013 USA Walker Cup competitor Todd White, Nurski mentioned his struggles on the greens. Despite his balky putter, he still managed to grind out a 19-hole semifinal win over Tom Werkmeister, but he couldn’t overcome his struggles in the final.
“I couldn’t get anything to go,” said Nurski of his putting. “As you could see, a lot of the putts got right next to the hole and didn’t go in. But that’s the way it goes. I was just proud to be here, and obviously wanted to win, but I just didn’t come out on top today.”
Played under overcast skies the entire match, the threat of inclement weather never arrived, even though the start of the afternoon round was moved up 45 minutes. In the morning 18, Harvey shot the equivalent of 2-under-par 69 to Nurski’s 73.
Even though Nurski rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 12 to get the match back to 1 down, Harvey started to pull away by winning Nos. 13, 15 and 18 to take a 4-up advantage into the lunch break.
“Similar to yesterday when things started clicking with my swing,” said Harvey of his late run. “It just started to feel simple. I wasn’t afraid of anything. Just take it back and hit it. [It was] kind of like I said earlier, I almost blacked out and just got caught up in the moment and did what I needed to do, and just let the golf take care of itself.”
A key moment came at the 502-yard 16th hole when it appeared Nurski might win the hole and trim the deficit to 2 down. Harvey managed to scramble for a bogey-5 to halve the hole after sending his approach shot into the lateral hazard left of the green. He punched out and followed with a chip to 4 feet.
On the 307-yard 18th hole, both players drove the green and had comparable long, uphill eagle putts. But Nurski lipped out his 5-footer for birdie, while Harvey converted his 4½ -footer.
After his round, Harvey became emotional when asked about his late father, Bill, who passed away last October at the age of 82. Bill Harvey competed in 23 USGA championships, including 15 U.S. Amateurs where his best finish was the quarterfinals in 1973 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
When he looked at the trophy sitting next to him, Harvey put his hands to his face and briefly choked up, knowing a proud dad would be approving of his accomplishment.
“He’d say I knew you could do it,” said Harvey. “That’s exactly what he’d say.”