Stewart Hagestad (USGA photo)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Sept. 22, 2018) – It is not in Bradford Tilley
’s nature to give up. Never was that more important than at this event a year ago, when Tilley claimed U.S. Mid-Amateur medalist honors, came down with a stomach bug and incurred severe hydration as he battled through his first-round match.
It got so bad at Capital City Club in Atlanta a year ago that Tilley was horizontal between shots, and leaning hard on his caddie to give him all the necessary information before he hit each shot. There was a five-minutes puking session on the ninth hole, and a trip to the emergency room after he won his first-round match. It was your basic golf nightmare.
“I hate quitting, I hate losing,” Tilley said of that day. “I will fight to the end. That’s the way I was born. Unless there is a stretcher taking me off the course, I wasn’t leaving. And that’s just my personality.”
Needless to say, Tilley was firmly on his feet Saturday at Charlotte Country Club as he posted a 4-under 67 to start the tournament tied for the lead. Tilley would be pleased if he could pull off medalist honors again, even when some players will tell you that this early in the week, it doesn’t matter who is on top. To some degree, Tilley knows that to be true, but a USGA medal is nice swag regardless.
Tilley got up-and-down from a greenside bunker on the 18th hole Sunday afternoon to close out a round that was bogey free.
“I got away with a few errant shots and you have to put together a round like that,” he said. “Other than about three shots that were a little bit iffy, the rest were really solid.”
Tilley, with his Pat Perez hair spilling out the underside of his ballcap, is making just his second U.S. Mid-Amateur start this week. He made it to the quarterfinals last year. The Easton, Conn., native was reinstated as an amateur in 2016 after eight years of grinding as a professional. He never won, and that’s something he’ll never forget. This life, however, is much for satisfying for the competitive Tilley.
“I was getting a little old and I wasn’t making any money,” Tilley said of trying to break through on the professional circuit.
And there’s still a bit of that in play this week. The Mid-Am winner famously receives an exemption into the U.S. Open as well as an invitation to the Masters.
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SECOND-NATURE: Stewart Hagestad
has had just about every experience there is to have in golf, from USGA championships to playing the Masters (courtesy of his 2016 Mid-Amateur win) to making a Walker Cup team. At 27, and in his third U.S. Mid-Amateur start, Hagestad has an unmistakable air of comfort about him. On Saturday, he rode that to a first-round 4-under 67 at Charlotte Country Club for a share of the lead with Tilley.
“I had a really stress-free day,” Hagestad said.
Hagestad has the same caddie on his bag, John Doherty, who looped for him two years ago when he won this event at Stonewall Links in Elverson, Pa. Doherty has long been a fixture in Met Amateur golf. Hagestad praises his man’s photographic memory, and his sheer level of experience. He picked up Dougherty, whom he affectionately calls J.D., in 2015, when he was working as a financial analyst in New York. He had much less time for the game then and leaned on Doherty’s extensive course knowledge.
When you find a good bagman, you don’t let him go.
“It’s kind of like a marriage,” Hagestad said. “We have a couple of tournaments a year we’ll go to together, and we definitely go at each other but at the same time it works really well when we’re both on.”
Hagestad’s game was fairways and greens on a postcard Saturday in Charlotte. Chalk part of that up to Hagestad getting a little more rest than he has in years past, when he was constantly teeing it up in competition. This year, his pre-Mid-Am rounds came at hallowed Pine Valley Golf Club, where he played the Crump Cup last week. It was a good test of accuracy, and a humbling experience.
“It’s awesome, and I think part of what makes the whole tournament is mystique, and the fact that no one really knows what’s going on behind the gates,” Hagestad said.
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FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING: Rob Laird
’s USGA debut began with a birdie on his first hole Saturday at Charlotte Country Club. The Tulsa native stepped onto the first tee at Charlotte Country Club with a clear game plan.
“There’s a couple of ways to play that first hole,” Laird said. “You can get aggressive with it or you can kind of lay back.”
Laird chose the latter, hitting an iron off the tee at the par-4 first and leaving himself a clear wedge shot in. He swallowed nerves to hit that approach 5 feet from the hole for his opening birdie. Three more followed at Nos. 6, 14 and 15. After a 3-under 68, Laird is tied for second.
“I hit a lot of fairways and I think that is key out here,” he said. “You’ve got to position yourself. The greens are tricky, but if you can keep it in the fairway and give yourself a chance at birdie, someone is going to make birdies and why not me?”
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, 2014 U.S. Mid-Am champ and North Carolina native, on the nature of mid-amateur players.
“I'd say nine out of ten have jobs, families, just responsibilities that come way before golf. Mid-amateurs play when you can, right, you're just not playing for a living or whatever. We just play whenever we can. . . . You show up to a tournament like this where the USGA grows the fairways in, the rough high, the greens are firm and fast, you're going to get exposed real quick if you're not sharp.”
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NUGGETS: Jake Koppenberg
was in the second-to-last group to come in Saturday evening in the twilight, but he snuck his way into a tie for third on the leaderboard. Koppenberg, a volunteer assistant golf coach at his alma mater Western Washington University
, was cruising through his round at 2 under until a double-bogey at No. 18 (he started on the back nine) sent him back to even par. He had four birdies and a bogey coming in. Koppenberg, who has made four U.S. Amateur starts, is making his U.S. Mid-Amateur debut. . . . Koppenberg and Marc Dull, runner-up at the 2015 Mid-Amateur, had the most birdies on Saturday. Each had seven in his first round. . . . Charlotte Country Club played slightly easier Saturday than its stroke-play companion Carolina Golf Club. Players average 75.9 at Charlotte Country Club, while but the average across town at Carolina Golf Club was 76.5. Both courses play to a par of 71. . . . Defending champion Matt Parziale
opened with a 5-over 76 at Carolina Golf Club. Reigning U.S. Senior Amateur champion Jeff Wilson
posted an even-par 71 at Carolina Golf Club.