Jeronimo Esteve (USGA Photo)
Mother Nature must have something on the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. For the third consecutive year, weather – in this case thunderstorms in the Metropolitan New York area – caused play to be suspended for most of the afternoon portion of Saturday’s first round at Sleepy Hollow Country Club and stroke-play co-host Fenway Golf Club in nearby Scarsdale, N.Y.
Play never resumed at Sleepy Hollow after 2:27 p.m. ET, while at Fenway Golf Club, located 16.5 miles southwest of the host course, restarted following a 2-hour, 40-minute delay.
While all 132 players from the morning wave at both venues completed Round 1, only five groups in the afternoon finished at 6,578-yard, par-70 Fenway. Play is expected to resume at 7:15 a.m. on Sunday at Sleepy Hollow (7:30 a.m. at Fenway) but given the logistics and forecast – more storms are in the offing – the match-play cut won’t occur until Monday.
In 2022 at Erin Hills, heavy rains on Sunday postponed Round 2 and created enough of a backup that the second 18 of the 36-hole championship match wasn’t completed until Saturday, one and a half days from the scheduled finish. Two years ago, a lengthy fog delay early in the championship forced the second 18 of the final to be completed on Friday.
In 2017 at Capital City Club and co-host Atlanta National, the remnants of a tropical storm wiped out Sunday’s second round and created a Friday finish.
Of the competitors who did complete Round 1, four players, including 2014 champion Scott Harvey
, 45, of Greensboro, N.C., posted 3-under 67s at Fenway, a classic A.W. Tillinghast design that underwent a renovation by Gil Hanse. Hanse also renovated Sleepy Hollow, which was originally created by C.B. Macdonald.
Joining Harvey with 67s were Brice Wilkinson
, a second-year law student from Brandon, Miss., Jeronimo Esteve
, 42, of Puerto Rico, and Kevin Grady
, 37, of Catonsville, Md.
, 36, of Lubbock, Texas, and Sam Jones
, 27, of New Zealand, posted the best rounds at 6,850-yard Sleepy Hollow with 3-under 68s.
Wilkinson, the youngest competitor in the field at 25 years, 1 month and 15 days, birdied his final three holes at Fenway. A 2021 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, where he played on the golf team, Wilkinson is hoping for a better performance than the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur at The Honors Course, where he missed the cut.
With eight birdies on Saturday, Wilkinson put himself in an excellent position to be one of the 64 match-play qualifiers. He closed with a flurry, knocking his approach to the par-4 16th to 10 feet, then hitting his 7-iron tee shot on the par-3 17th to 3 feet and converting a 15-footer on the par-5 18th after driving into the left rough and hitting his second into the right rough.
“The putter helped me out a little bit, said Wilkinson, who is making the most of his visit to the Big Apple, attending a Yankees game on Friday night and visiting Manhattan on Saturday after his opening round. “I thought I was coming up here [to the Northeast] to get away from this humidity and [heat]. It’s not nearly as bad as it is back home right now. It’s like 102 with 100 percent humidity. It’s brutal.”
Harvey, who has spent most of his summer taking his teenage son, Cameron, to junior golf events, wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his game this week. His swing felt great during Thursday’s practice round, but he wasn’t comfortable on Friday. Then he found something on the range before his 12:12 p.m. starting time and registered four birdies to go with a lone bogey on the 475-yard, par-4 fifth hole. The 2015 USA Walker Cupper’s final birdie came on the 357-yard eighth hole, where he knocked a 60-degree wedge from 60 yards to 10 feet.
“I hope I can keep the feel and it stays,” said Harvey, who was the runner-up in 2016, two years after his triumph at Saucon Valley Country Club.
Esteve, a Dartmouth College alum and cancer survivor who has represented Puerto Rico in seven Latin America Amateur Championships and is competing in his eighth U.S. Mid-Amateur, hit 16 of 18 greens in Round 1. His score might have been lower if not for a pair of three-putt bogeys on 13 and 16. But the 2023 Coleman Invitational champion was able to make a nice up-and-down par from a greenside bunker on No. 18 to carry some momentum into Day 2 of stroke play.
Twelve years ago, doctors diagnosed Esteve with stage 1 Hodgkin lymphoma, and trips to Houston, Texas, from his Florida residence – he moved to the Sunshine State from Puerto Rico with his family while in grammar school – for treatment eventually put the disease in remission, and six months later he was competing in his first U.S. Mid-Amateur at Shadow Hawk in suburban Houston.
Now Esteve, who owns three car dealerships in Orlando, Fla., is hoping this is the year he goes beyond the first round of match play. As someone who enjoys instructing and racing within the National Auto Sport Association, Saturday’s fast start gave Esteve reason for optimism.
“I’ve been playing well, and I was happy to get done here [at Fenway],” said Esteve, who has represented Puerto Rico in four World Amateur Team Championships, including the 2022 edition in France. “This is a really, really difficult golf course. I just left myself in a lot of good spots on the greens. I drove it fairly well today. It was fun. And I saw some putts drop, which honestly was a big surprise. The practice rounds, I wasn’t putting very well. The greens at home [in Florida] are very slow. So to see bent[grass] greens rolling 12 and 13 [feet on the Stimpmeter] and the ball coming in on the side, it took me [a couple of] rounds [to get comfortable].”
Grady, playing in his second consecutive U.S. Mid-Amateur and fourth USGA championship, made six birdies against a bogey and double bogey. The 2021 Maryland State Golf Association’s Player of the Year and owner of three Maryland Mid-Amateur titles put himself in solid position to get into match play, which he missed a year ago at Erin Hills.
His round on Saturday included a near hole-out for eagle on the par-4 eighth hole from 90 yards. Birdies on the 270-yard first and par-5 third jump-started his day.
“I struggled with the golf swing a little bit, but was able to grind it out, which you are going to have to do,” said Grady. “As long as you keep it in the fairway it’s fine. Unlike Sleepy Hollow … here [at Fenway] you could at least advance it. I was able to hit a couple of mid-irons out of the rough and get it up around the green. But you have no control over it at that point. I hit it in the rough a handful of times on the back nine and was able to scramble well on [holes] 10 thru 15.”
Shivers, who played on the 2006 national junior college championship team at Midland (Texas) College, posted a solid four-birdie, one-bogey round. Starting on the par-3 10th, the owner of Hudson Trucking played bogey-free, 1-under golf on his opening nine before registering three birdies in a five-hole stretch on the outward nine. His lone hiccup came on the 227-yard, par-3 seventh.
Jones, meanwhile, continued a trend of strong play by Kiwis in USGA amateur championships in 2023. Joshua Bai reached the final of the U.S. Junior Amateur and last week in the U.S. Senior Amateur, Brent Paterson took medalist and eventual champion Todd White to the 21st hole a month after winning the R&A British Senior Amateur. Last year, Jones was the No. 2 seed out of stroke play before falling in the Round of 32.