Brett Boner (USGA photo)
Every now and then, Brett Boner will get a random text message with a video of himself attached. The videos are all the same – it’s Boner, walking in a long birdie putt on the 18th hole of his U.S. Mid-Amateur semifinal match with Stewart Hagestad. They’re often from a little different angle then Boner has seen before. There’s a hearty fist pump, a bro hug and a big smile. It was Boner’s pinch-me moment at a USGA championship held in his hometown, and a putt that changed the course of his 2019.
The Charlotte, N.C., golf community has not forgotten that its hometown player very nearly won a USGA title last fall on his home turf at Charlotte Country Club. Boner came up one match short, ultimately losing to Kevin O’Connell in the final. Lately, the members at Carolina Golf Club, where Boner belongs, have been peppering their man with questions about his upcoming start at the U.S. Amateur, an exemption he guaranteed himself when he dropped the putt against Hagestad. They want to know how to get tickets, or where to stay if Boner makes another deep match-play run.
“The support since last year has been wild,” he said.
April was perhaps harder for those close to Boner than it was for Boner himself. Only the Mid-Amateur champion gets invitations to the Masters and the U.S. Open, not the runner-up. In the wake of all the hype, the 45-year-old has been careful to keep this all in perspective.
“As late as last week, I had people say to me, ‘Golly, I can’t believe we almost all had a big party in Augusta or Pebble Beach,’” Boner said. “I thought about it and do think about it, but it’s all good.”
Boner’s son Henry, 11, is one of those people. In fact, the family was in the airport on Masters Friday, headed to Spain so Henry could play a soccer tournament there. Brett was going through security, glued to live scoring and rooting hard for O’Connell to make the cut. Henry was still sick about it.
“I wish we weren’t going to Spain,” he said. “I wish we were in Augusta.”
Masters start or not, it’s been a dream year. Fourteen years ago, after an unsuccessful attempt to make it as a professional, Boner shelved golf as a career, regained his amateur status, and now works as a financial advisor in private wealth management. He takes questions about his golf game from his office now, not the golf course – he just can’t help but look at the invitation to the Crump Cup, an exclusive amateur event at Pine Valley, sitting on his desk while he does.
It’s the golden ticket.
“It’s almost like the underground secret society of mid-amateur golf out there. It’s really cool,” Boner said of tournament starts at the Coleman Invitational (Seminole Golf Club), Thomas Invitational (Los Angeles Country Club) and Jones Cup (Ocean Forest GC in Sea Island, Ga.,) in the past six months.
They are difficult invitations to turn down, even though there is some anxiety – admittedly, self-imposed – that comes with trying to add competitive golf into the mix with family and work responsibilities. Boner wants his wife, kids and clients to understand that golf is not more important than his life in Charlotte.
Boner’s wife Lindsay is used to the dance, having been the rock during Boner’s professional foray. “Just send me calendar invites so I know where you are,” she joked with her husband this year as he played some of the country’s best, and most exclusive, golf courses.
“She’s a unicorn, because she’s just so cool,” Boner said.
This year has been a second chance, but not truly. Boner’s goal as a twentysomething was to play golf as a career. Now golf is a hobby, not a priority. This does not end with a PGA Tour card, but Boner hopes it does eventually end with a USGA trophy.
“I realized you might be getting some really cool invitations to some tournaments, but as time went on, I was more and more bummed being just a few better decisions away from being a USGA champion,” he said. “To have that next to your name as an amateur golfer, and to have that trophy or medal, it’s irreplaceable.”
This will be Boner’s first-ever U.S. Amateur start after trying to qualify a handful of times as a college player at Auburn. Twice, Boner was the first alternate, including in 1995, the year Tiger Woods won at Newport (R.I.) Country Club. Boner showed up that week to caddie for Mayson Petty, a friend who played for Alabama. He was with Petty on the companion course, preparing for the start of the first round, when a last-minute cancellation opened up a tee time at Newport.
They just couldn’t find Boner to tell him about it.
“Should have played better in the qualifier,” he reasons.
When Boner tees it up at Pinehurst next week, he will be among the oldest competitors. Last fall’s grueling Mid-Am run laid him out for three days after the tournament ended. Ahead of the U.S. Amateur, Boner has been focusing on hydration, working on his legs (and knowing when to rest them) and visualization.
A week ago, Boner drove the 100 miles to Pinehurst at 5 a.m. and played the two tournament courses (Nos. 2 and 4) with a local caddie on the bag (who he’ll likely keep for the tournament). He describes the green on Nos. 2 as an upside-down cereal bowl. He hopes to gain his edge mentally.
“Hopefully my 45-year-old brain can be more patient than those guys,” he said of the college players who fill the U.S. Am field. “…My whole goal next week is to have more patience than I’ve ever had. You don’t have to be great those first two rounds, but I think you have to be good and patient.”
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LOOKING FOR THE BREAKTHROUGH
: Nearly a month ago, Denny Job, set out on an 18-hole practice round for his July 15 U.S. Amateur qualifier at Alpine CC in Highland, Utah, with his buddy, Zac Blair. They had so much fun that, despite the fact that Job had to play 36 holes the next day, they played 18 more in the afternoon.
“I don’t know if this is a good idea right before a 36-hole qualifier,” Job thought at the time. Turns out, it didn’t matter. The next day, Job followed Blair’s advice: He got it to 8 under (even thought that meant firing an afternoon 64), and he advanced to the U.S. Amateur for the first time in his career.
This past weekend, Blair won his first Korn Ferry Tour title at the Ellie Mae Classic.
“Just you saying that gives me goosebumps,” Job said when talking about his buddy’s breakthrough win.
Job, 29, is one of the unknown names from a pocket of Utah golf that includes Blair, Tony Finau and Finau’s littler brother, Gipper. In fact, that foursome repped Utah in the Junior Americas Cup in 2006. Job remembers they were leading entering the final round, but had a lackluster closing day. He’s uncertain where they even fell on the leaderboard.
“We were going for first.”
Job suffered a bit of a setback as he struggled to concentrate on his studies while on the golf team at Southern Utah University, but he still dreams of joining the others on Tour someday. After leaving college, he bounced around jobs that allowed him to still devote time to his golf. This summer, he is working as a caddie at Promontory Golf Club in Park City, Utah, which allows him to also keep his game sharp. He tees it often, even in competition. Before medaling at his U.S. Am qualifier, Job shot 67 at the Logan River Amateur and won by a shot.
“Utah has a really good amateur program,” Job said. “It seems like summers, there’s at least one every weekend, two or three some weekends that you could choose from or play a double-header.”
After playing the U.S. Mid-Amateur in Charlotte last fall, Job has a little better idea of the terrain, and what to expecting regarding the quality of play. In the run-up to Pinehurst, Job has been watching footage of Martin Kaymer’s (2014) and Payne Stewart’s (1991) U.S. Open wins there. He’ll have his dad Ryan, a former professional baseball player, on the bag.
Job, who admits to having Tin Cup tendencies, has been watching his friends, too.
“Just watching them, seeing how they manage the game around the course and just getting smarter, more mature, knowing not to try to go for every 340-yard green, maybe lay back and get it on the green and make a birdie putt,” Job said.
With any luck, a solid week at Pinehurst will be the next step Job has been looking for.
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THE MOMENTUM CONTINUES:
It’s a rare thing when the Western Amateur champion does not also tee it up at the Western Amateur. Since 2010, it has only happened twice: Dawson Armstrong missed in 2015 and Ethan Tracy in 2011.
Garrett Rank, the 31-year-old Canadian who won last week’s Western, won’t fall into that category. He was one of the final players added to the field for next week and will tee it up alongside Players Am winner Spencer Ralston and California Am winner William Mouw.
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TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH
U.S. Amateur, Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort (Nos. 2 and 4), Aug. 12-18
It’s the highlight of the summer schedule, so anyone who is a player is teeing it up at Pinehurst next week. Check out the marquee pairings for the first and second rounds of stroke play.
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK
: Match-play mindset
“I try to treat every match the same, whether I'm playing [a well-known player] or someone I've never met before. I think it helps just to play it the same.”
Texas junior Kaitlyn Papp on whether she focuses harder when playing a highly rated player such as Yuka Saso. Papp took down Saso, medalist at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, in the first round of match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
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TWEET OF THE WEEK:
Let’s see what you’ve got, No. 4