2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Kevin O'Connell (USGA photo)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Sept. 27, 2018) – Leaving Pebble Beach last month, Kevin O’Connell
was already thinking about a return trip. The 30-year-old had managed to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, but failed to advance to match play. It was a disappointment after a summer of preparation, but O’Connell and his father discussed the possibility that he could get his game in order and try to qualify for next year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
After Thursday, he won’t have to. O’Connell played extraordinary golf at Charlotte Country Club this week during the U.S. Mid-Amateur, which culminated in a 4-and-3 defeat of local player Brett Boner
in the scheduled 36-hole final. He’s not only a USGA champion, he’s now exempt into next year’s U.S. Open. It’s one of a myriad of perks he’ll enjoy over the next calendar year.
“To kind of take care of that early is phenomenal,” O’Connell said. “I can't wait.”
O’Connell, a Cary, N.C., native who played college golf for North Carolina from 2007-11, never even let his opponent in the door. He went 1 down to Boner when he bogeyed No. 3, quickly make up for it with a par to Boner’s bogey at No. 5, and began to build his lead from there. O’Connell won five consecutive holes from Nos. 10-14, going 5 up, and it was all but over from there. Even though Boner cut that to 3 up by the time the morning round was over, O’Connell never let him get any closer.
O’Connell was four up with four holes to go when the match was temporarily suspended due to thunderstorms. When play was resumed, O'Connell was able to halve the next hole and win, 4 and 3.
When O’Connell won the Monroe Invitational in July, it became the biggest victory of his amateur career – perhaps of his golf career. That changed on Thursday when he cruised to victory over Charlotte local Brett Boner at the U.S. Mid-Amateur. This will open doors, but it will also force decisions.
O’Connell never won at the University of North Carolina – and has called that one of his biggest regrets. He gave PGA Tour Qualifying School three tries upon graduating but never was able to get his card, so he entered the 9-5 world.
“I spent probably four, five years kind of working,” O’Connell said. “I was at an investment firm for a while and that was great experience. Then I was a fitter at PXG. That was a great experience. I think actually when I went to work for PXG, it brought me closer again. I wasn't in an office. It was my job to be on a driving range kind of fitting golfers.”
Once O’Connell had the bug again, he approached his parents about a second shot at competitive golf. With their blessing, he played everything to which he could get an invitation. The highlight of his summer was a win at the Monroe Invitational, but O’Connell also performed well at the Porter Cup, Carolinas Mid-Amateur and North Carolina Mid-Amateur.
That’s when the twist comes in. O’Connell had played so well this year that he decided to give the professional circuit another shot. In a week, he’ll be bound for France to play European Tour Qualifying School as an amateur.
As for what happens if he gets through? He hadn’t quite worked out all the scenarios on Thursday afternoon. Of course, to keep his exemption into the U.S. Open – and to accept the invitation he’ll likely get to the Masters – he would have to be an amateur.
“I haven't had a chance to really think about whether or not that's still something that I'm going to do,” he said. “That just was my plan all along.”
Even with that road in front of him, O’Connell has other ideas about how the next stage of his life could play out, too. While working at the investment firm Franklin Street Partners in Chapel Hill, N.C., O’Connell got to know several UNC basketball players as well as NBA players. Having always been a basketball fan, it put a new career idea in his head.
“In terms of what I would like to do for a career, I would love to either work in a front office or possibly as an agent,” he said. “I think I could certainly bring a lot to the table, and also be a lot of fun for me.”
It’s sometimes a good thing to have several doors open in front of you, and that certainly describes the next year of O’Connell’s life. But as for his match on Thursday, he left none open for Boner. Not even a local crowd could propel the 44-year-old to victory over a guy who wasn’t making any mistakes.
“It's a very bittersweet ending because I played really poorly today for the most part,” Boner said. “Made some bad decisions that I didn't realize at the time. Maybe experience has something to do with it. But it was an incredible week with an enormous amount of the memories for my friends. To have this kind of support out here, you know, it was almost a dream come true. Almost.”
ABOUT THE U.S. Mid-Amateur
The U.S. Mid-Amateur originated in 1981 for the
amateur golfer of at least 25 years of age, the
purpose of which to provide a formal national
championship for the post-college player. 264
begin the championship with two rounds of sroke
qualifying held at two courses, after which the low
(with a playoff if necessary to get the exact number)
advance to single elimination match play.
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