Hayes Brown (Courtesy of USGA)
This is the kind of week it has been for No. 64 seed Hayes Brown
. When the 32-year-old from Charlotte, N.C. made a 20-foot birdie putt on the fourth hole of his Round-of-16 match on Wednesday morning in the 40th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at wind-whipped Sankaty Head Golf Club, he recognized some familiar shouts.
“Two of my best friends didn’t tell me they were coming, but when I made that birdie, I heard their yells and I knew straightaway,” said Brown, who continued his dreamlike run through the match-play bracket with a pair of victories and some unexpected on-site support. “It took me a hole to readjust. Who knows what kind of flight they took last night to make the 5 a.m. ferry from Hyannis to be here?”
Brown won that match, 4 and 2, over Richard “Skip” Berkmeyer
, and followed that performance by ousting Colby Harwell
, 6 and 5, in the afternoon to continue the farthest advance ever for a No. 64 seed in this championship. No previous No. 64 seed had won more than two matches.
Brown, who secured his spot in match play with a 95-yard hole-out for an eagle 2 in what became a 6-for-1 playoff on Monday, has since won four matches, starting with a come-from-behind, 1-up victory over top-seeded Yaroslav Merkulov. The medalist had set the championship stroke-play record with a 9-under-par total of 131 before Brown rallied from 3 down with six holes to play.
The task doesn’t get easier for Brown. His semifinal opponent on Thursday at 7:30 a.m. EDT is championship stalwart Stewart Hagestad
, of Newport Beach, Calif. Hagestad, the 2016 champion, has become a fixture in the U.S. Mid-Am semifinals, having now reached this stage in four of his five starts in the championship. He did it on Wednesday with impressive play and a sportsmanlike gesture that highlights the best instincts of the game.
Hagestad defeated Stephen Behr Jr.
, of Atlanta, Ga., in 23 holes in the morning by making a birdie on the 416-yard, par-4 fifth hole after the players had tied the seven previous holes, a match that Hagestad called perhaps the best 18-hole duel he had ever been involved in.
In the afternoon, Hagestad led Christian Sease, 2 up, as they played the 14th hole. Having asked Hagestad to move his ball marker, Sease reminded Hagestad that he had failed to move the marker back to its original spot before attempting his birdie putt. Had Hagestad putted from the incorrect spot, he would have lost the hole. Hagestad re-marked his ball and missed his birdie try, then immediately conceded Sease’s par putt from 8 feet as a thank you for the reminder by his opponent. Hagestad went on to win, 2 up.
“It just felt like the right thing to do to give him the 8-footer,” said Hagestad, a three-time Walker Cup competitor. “He could have easily said nothing, and I could have lost the hole. It’s more important to be a good guy than anything else. Obviously winning the hole is a plus, but it was the right thing to do, and I would do it again.”
Now Hagestad, the highest remaining seed at No. 13 with an 18-3 record in this championship, will try to make his second final. He defeated Scott Harvey in 2016 in 37 holes at Stonewall Links in Elverson, Pa., by rallying from a late four-hole deficit with a flurry of five birdies.
The other semifinal features Nick Maccario
, 29, of Haverhill, Mass., representing his home state in this championship on Nantucket Island, squaring off against No. 23 seed Mark Costanza
, 32, of Morristown, N.J. The No. 59 seed, Maccario got into the field in the same 13-for-7 playoff as Brown on Monday afternoon, advancing along with five others with a par one hole earlier. On Wednesday, he defeated 2014 runner-up Brad Nurski, of St. Joseph, Mo., 3 and 2, and Gregor Orlando, of Haverford, Pa., 5 and 4.
“I played a really heavy national schedule this year and didn’t necessarily get the results I wanted,” said Maccario, the 2020 Massachusetts Player of the Year. “But it certainly taught me a lot about the game, taught me a lot about how some of the best players play those golf courses. And now, being in the home state, knowing the weather and having played in the wind and everything else has certainly been helpful.”
Costanza, a graduate of St. John’s University who was the 2020 Player of the Year in both his home state and the Metropolitan Golf Association, married his wife, Meredith, on Sept. 18 and is enjoying something of a honeymoon prelude this week with her as his caddie.
“I would call this the first leg of our honeymoon,” said Costanza. “On Friday we are going to Italy for a week, so we weren’t sure how many matches and how long we’d be playing golf this week, but it’s been fun, and we’re obviously going to see it through.”
Costanza topped Brett Viboch, of Sacramento, Calif., 4 and 3, in the morning, and he defeated Andrew Bailey, of Cleveland, Ohio, 5 and 4, in the afternoon quarterfinals. Bailey had eliminated Garrett Rank, the No. 2 seed, of Canada, 2 and 1, in the morning Round of 16. Rank, who will begin his eighth year as an NHL referee next week, was the runner-up in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Am.
The semifinal round will be played on Thursday morning, beginning at 7:30 a.m., and the first 18 holes of the 36-hole final is scheduled to begin at 12:45 p.m. The second 18 of the final will be played on Friday, starting at 7:30 a.m. Admission is free, and fans are welcome to attend. The championship was pushed to a Friday finish by more than five hours of fog delays during Saturday’s first round of stroke play.
A No. 64 seed has never won a USGA amateur championship conducted at match play since seeding began in the mid-1980s. Three No. 63 seeds have won, most recently Jensen Castle, who captured the 121st U.S. Women’s Amateur in August at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y. The other No. 63s to prevail were Clay Ogden in the 2005 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Shaker Run Golf Club in Lebanon, Ohio; and Steven Fox, in the 2012 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. Alexandra Frazier reached the 2010 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur final as the No. 64 seed, but lost to Mina Hardin at Fiddlesticks Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla. Aliea Clark, the No. 64 seed in the concurrent U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship taking place at Berkeley Hall Club in Bluffton, S.C., reached the championship match on Wednesday afternoon.
Stewart Hagestad’s 23-hole victory over Stephen Behr Jr. in the Round of 16 on Wednesday is the second-longest match in the Round of 16 in U.S. Mid-Am history, trailing only the 24-hole victory by Steve Sheehan over Jeff Kern at NCR Country Club in 1998. The longest 18-hole match in championship history is a 27-hole victory by Jerry Courville Jr. over Philip Ebner in the Round of 64, also in 1998 at NCR. Hagestad’s win is tied for 11th-longest in championship history overall.
Lukas Michel, of Australia, the 2019 champion, remains the only international champion of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, after Garrett Rank, of Canada, and Devon Hopkins, of South Africa, lost in the Round of 16 on Wednesday. Michel, 27, who prevailed over Joseph Deraney, 2 and 1, at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colo., shot 6-over 146 to miss the cut for match play. Deraney shot 3-over 143 to miss the cut by one.
All of the quarterfinalists are exempt into next year’s championship at Erin Hills and stroke-play co-host Blue Mound Country Club.