Andres Schonbaum (USGA photo)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Sept. 24, 2018) – Andres Schonbaum
’s dark eyes sparkled on a grey Monday afternoon at Charlotte Country Club. Schonbaum had just defeated defending champion Matt Parziale
, 3 and 2, to score a pass into the second round of match play at the U.S. Mid-Amateur. Parziale was some first-round draw for the Argentinian who is playing the Mid-Amateur for just his second time, but Schonbaum showed his game has mettle.
“I did my thing, you know? Fairways, greens and make a couple putts. It worked well. I played solid so he couldn’t do much,” said the 27-year-old who lives full-time in Cordoba, Argentina, but maintains a vacation home in Jupiter, Fla.
Earlier this summer, another Argentinian pulled off something similar. Jesus Montenegro
, a sophomore at Jacksonville State, took down World No. 1 Braden Thornberry
in the first round of the U.S. Amateur. Schonbaum also played for Jacksonville State.
The U.S. Amateur field is much more international than the Mid-Amateur field. There were 23 countries represented (often by multiple players) at Pebble Beach last month versus eight this week in Charlotte. Only three of the 32 names left on the match-play board are next to a flag that doesn’t have stars and stripes. Never in the 38-year history of the U.S. Mid-Amateur has an international player won this event, but that statistic may soon change.
Schonbaum will tell you he’s here this week because of what 2014 Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey
, with whom he played two rounds at the 2015 South American Amateur in Peru, had to say about the week. Schonbaum was instantly sold, especially considering that there are few tournaments designated for mid-amateurs in Argentina, and most are small, two-day events staged on weekends.
“I was about to turn 25, I knew they played great courses, and I love the U.S.,” said Schonbaum, a player who moved back to Cordoba as soon as he finished his eligibility at Jacksonville State. Schonbaum now works as an insurance broker, and also played the Western Amateur this summer.
Harvey’s endorsement may have gone a long way in convincing Schonbaum to pencil in the Mid-Am, but ultimately, it was a USGA exemption for World Amateur Golf Ranking that got him in. In 2012, the USGA added a category for players ranked inside the top 400 in the WAGR. That not only brought in Schonbaum, but also Germany’s Claudio Consul
, who defeated Californian Brett Viboch
, 5 and 4, on Monday.
Consul, a 35-year-old, represents a European cohort that is without such a championship. The R&A retired its British Mid-Amateur in 2007 after just 12 years of existence. Consul, who makes his home in Dusseldorf, Germany, never played in it. He did play, and win, the European Mid-Amateur in 2016. It’s the closest experience to this one, but far from the highlight of his year.
“The British Amateur is fantastic to play in, that’s the other highlight for me,” he said. “Apart from that it’s probably the U.S. Mid-Am.”
Consul can remember when 35 was the designated age to be a mid-amateur in Europe. The age has since been reduced to 30, but there are still a lack of events for someone in his age group.
Consul grew up competing against Martin Kaymer, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, as a kid in Germany. He became serious about golf when he was 10, and his breakthrough came with a win at the 2002 German Amateur. The 2004 Italian Amateur title followed. This week marks his third consecutive trip to the Mid-Amateur, and despite knowing no one in his 2016 debut, he’s hooked on this experience.
“The first year I didn’t really know what to expect and I absolutely loved it,” he said. A year ago, Consul brought his girlfriend when the event was played in Atlanta. But this year, Consul has tickets to the Ryder Cup in Paris, so he’ll be on the first plane out when his run ends, whenever that may be.
Consul loved the traditional layout of Charlotte Country Club, and believes more European players in his shoes would become hooked, as he has, if it were easier to get in. He takes care to maintain his WAGR position so that he can continue to qualify through the ranking exemption. He would like to see a U.S. Mid-Am qualifier in Europe, believing that would draw in more players like him.
It should be noted that there are U.S. Mid-Am exemption categories for winners of the most current Asia-Pacific Amateur, Canadian Men’s Amateur, European Amateur, Latin America Amateur and Mexican Amateur championships.
Four Europeans started this event, but aside from Consul, Samuel Echikson
is the only other one standing after the Round of 64. Echikson’s home is Belgium – it’s where he grew up, and where his parents still live – but North Carolina is his place of residence. He lives five minutes from the course, and ultimately feels like it’s a home game this week. Echikson, who played for Davidson from 2010-14, advanced through an 18-hole qualifier.
Being a Belgian-born player, Echikson, 25, would still go down as an international winner, should he advance through five more matches this week. Echikson, whose father is American and mother is Finnish, was a member of the Belgian National Team growing up, but isn’t sure the federation knows he is even teeing it up this week. Echikson had been sidelined with a back injury before undergoing surgery on his lower spine in April. It made sense for him to try qualifying for this event considering it was so close to home.
“I really didn’t know what to expect coming in here and I’m realizing that I’m pretty good, I can compete,” Echikson said after a 3-and-2 victory over Ian Bangor on Monday morning. “Today wasn’t my best, and it wasn’t really his best either, but I can really compete.”
Echikson, a software developer, would love to some day play the U.S. Amateur. He is making his USGA debut this week, and says this is the championship in which he feels the most comfortable. And that, it seems, is the beauty of the Mid-Amateur.