Lukas Michel (USGA photo)
Lukas Michel had some catching up to do after lunch. In the scheduled 36-hole final of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, the 25-year-old Australian went 1 down to Joseph Deraney in the morning, only to fight back hard in the afternoon for a 2-and-1 victory.
By doing so, Michel becomes the first international player ever to win this title. Only three international players before him have made it to the final match, the last one being Canadian Garrett Rank, winner of the Western Amateur last month, back in 2012.
Michel joins U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Gabriela Ruffels as Australian winners of USGA championships in 2019. U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur runner-up Sue Wooster also hails from Australia.
“Being the first international to win, I mean, it’s a massive thing,” said Michel. “Being the first of anything to win something is always great, a great feeling.
“[Saying I’m a USGA champion] sounds unbelievable. It sounds almost too good to be true. Yeah, I guess it will sink in in the coming hours or days. But, yeah, I mean, I’m looking forward to what comes with it in the future for my golf.”
Michel had to fight hard for it over the second half of the final match at Colorado Golf Club. Deraney’s 1-up lead had become a 3-up lead by the fifth tee – right after he birdied the second and fourth holes of the afternoon. That’s when Michel started to fight back. He won three of the next four holes.
Michel’s eleventh-hour charge started with a birdie on No. 14, his 30th hole of the day. It was the first of three birdies he would make over the final five holes, including two of the final three. When both men parred the par-3 closing hole, Michel was left with the title.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur winner scores an exemption to the U.S. Open, and traditionally an invitation to the Masters. Needless to say, the spoils are significant.
From the No. 46 position on the bracket, where Michel was sitting, it was a tough road to the final. He had to take down Stewart Hagestad, the highest-ranked mid-amateur in the world, in the semifinals. This was Michel's U.S. Mid-Amateur debut, and
at 25 years of age, he was among the youngest players in the field.
“I mean, you look at the world amateur rankings and I think I went in at like 11 or 12 out of the field. But there are a lot of the good guys here,” he said the night before the final. “Like there is a lot of guys that have their status back and like that. So I knew I was sort of I guess in amongst it.”
Michel benefited from a change in the World Amateur Golf Ranking exemption category that allowed for more international players to enter this week’s event. He was among 18 international players (as compared to 246 Americans), but the only man representing Australia.
Michel had already been to the U.S. earlier this summer to play in the Sunnehanna Amateur, Northeast Amateur and North & South Amateur. After failing to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in July, he flew home, about a month before qualifying began for the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
“American golf is the best golf in the world, there’s no question about it,” said Michel. “So coming over and playing great golf and beating a really strong field of mostly America’s best mid-amateurs. I mean, that’s everything. And the world’s best mid-amateurs now because of that new exemption criteria.
“Obviously, it makes the field stronger and harder to win and all that, but I’m obviously happy that exemption category was added. I think it makes the event stronger and I think that’s got to be a positive thing.”
As for Deraney, the 36-year-old super-dad came up just short of winning the so-far elusive USGA title. This was his fourth USGA start.
Earlier this summer in defending his Canadian Mid-Amateur title, Deraney had to hold off Western Amateur champion Garrett Rank, a native Canadian. Expect to see those two as four-ball partners in the future, which just might get both over the USGA hump.
Deraney won the Mississippi State Amateur this summer and was runner-up at the Carlton Woods Invitational, a tournament he won a year ago. He won the Stocker Cup in 2016.
After a 2018 in which his most notable accomplishment, perhaps, (outside of winning the Canadian Mid-Amateur) was winning the Timuquana Cup and Carlton Woods Invitational in a span of six consecutive days, Deraney made no qualms about what he is trying to do in this sector of the game.
“I play to win,” he told AmateurGolf.com at the end of the year. “I play to have fun, but the aspect I enjoy the most is the competition. I don’t show up to finish second.”
Deraney has to squeeze in practice time around his kids’ schedules if he wants to keep getting better. His three children are all under 5 years old, and Deraney is a doting stay-at-home dad. His wife Sarah is a radiologist and is affiliated with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“Definitely don't practice as much as I used to. Don't play recreational golf much,” Deraney said. “My friends understand that I'm away from the family when I go to tournaments, so it's pretty dedicated practice. When I'm there for two hours I know what I'm doing. I just get my work in and see how it works.”
This week, it worked well. He just came up one match short.
Quotes and information from the USGA