Jeronimo Esteve (USGA Photo)
An air horn blast went off at exactly 8:46 a.m. EDT on Monday morning at Sleepy Hollow Country Club and stroke-play co-host Fenway Golf Club in nearby Scarsdale, N.Y. For once this week, it wasn’t to stop play for weather, a common theme at the 42nd U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, where multiple suspensions pushed the stroke-play portion of the competition into Monday, creating havoc with the schedule.
With the 22nd anniversary of one of the worst days in American history – the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as well as the crash of United Flight 93 in rural western Pennsylvania – the USGA honored the thousands who lost their lives that day with a one-minute moment of silence. Airhorns were used to stop and restart play.
But it wouldn’t be the 2023 Mid-Am without a weather delay and one came at 4:04 p.m. and ended 131 minutes later. Only eight of the 32 opening-round matches managed to get onto the 6,809-yard, par-71 C.B. Macdonald design that was recently renovated by Gil Hanse. Play was suspended due to darkness at 7:04 p.m.
Almost the entire 16-for-14 playoff for the final spots in the match-play draw – the cut came at 3-over-par 144 – was completed before darkness as two players, former Alabama assistant coach Hunter Hamrick, of Pike Road, Ala., and Paul Mitzel, of Seattle, Wash., are headed to a sixth extra hole on Tuesday morning to determine the 64th and final seed.
At least the stroke-play portion of the championship finally finished on Monday at 1:50 p.m. at Fenway (10:21 a.m. at Sleepy Hollow), with cancer survivor Jeronimo Esteve, 42, of Puerto Rico, snagging medalist honors with a 6-under total of 135. He was one stroke better than four-time medalist and 2014 champion Scott Harvey, 45, of Greensboro, N.C.
Four players posted 4-under 137s, including Nate McCoy, 33, of Ankeny, Iowa, the son of 2013 champion and victorious 2023 USA Walker Cup captain Mike McCoy. The other three at that number were Sam Jones, 27, of New Zealand, Harry Bolton, 26, of Australia, and Blair Hamm, 32, of Birmingham, Ala.
The group at 3-under 138 included two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad, 32, of Newport Beach, Calif., who completed his second round on Sunday; 2022 and 2023 Georgia Mid-Amateur champion Nate Gahman, 32, of Albany, Ga.; Brady Shivers, 36, of Lubbock, Texas; Jack Schultz, 33, of Milwaukee, Wis.; Chris Devlin, 48, of Hoover, Ala.; Jimmy Castles, 27, of Cupertino, Calif.; Derek Smith, 39, of Fayetteville, Ark.; Kevin Grady, 35, of Catonsville, Md.; and Andres Schonbaum, 32, of Argentina.
Esteve, competing in his eighth U.S. Mid-Amateur, followed up a first-round 67 at par-70, 6,578-yard Fenway Golf Club with a 3-under 68 at Sleepy Hollow.
“It’s amazing,” said Esteve, who has competed in seven Latin America Amateur Championships and represented Puerto Rico in four World Amateur Team Championships. “It certainly wasn’t my intention this week. My goal was to make match play and make a deep run. I have made match play several times before and haven’t really done it. I worked really hard getting ready for this tournament, so it is affirmation of the work I have put in. I really like the golf course and I am playing well.”
In his delayed second round, Esteve birdied holes 12, 14 and 15. His 5-wood second to par-5 12th started his birdie run. He knocked his pitching-wedge approach on No. 14 6 feet past the flagstick, and then he two-putted the par-5 15th after reaching the green with a knock-down 6-iron second shot.
McCoy, in his sixth full year as the director of handicapping and course rating for the Iowa Golf Association, had thoughts of being a medalist when he birdied his first four holes at Fenway and posted a 5-under 30 on the outward nine, one shot off the championship nine-hole record. Three consecutive bogeys coming from No. 11 ended those hopes, but as someone who has been around USGA championships seemingly since birth, Nate McCoy knows everyone starts on the ground floor in match play.
“It probably was one of the best nines I’ve played this season,” said McCoy, who had his father on his bag after employing his cousin, Ben McCoy, during Saturday’s first round at Sleepy Hollow. “It was nice to build a little cushion; you know the whole goal obviously is just to get to match play.”
Brad Tilley, 40, of Easton, Conn., a member at Sleepy Hollow who won events at both stroke-play venues in 2022 – the Westchester Open at Sleepy and Metropolitan Golf Association Amateur at Fenway – had a few anxious moments early in his second round at Fenway on Monday before settling for a 1-over 71, which advanced him to match play. Starting on No. 10, Tilley bogeyed his first two holes and made a clutch par save on No. 12.
He eventually got into a rhythm on his second nine with birdies on Nos. 1 and 3. He also holed a 6-foot par putt on the par-4 ninth that produced a fist pump and a nice reception from the 10 to 15 members of his rooting section. Tilley momentarily thought he needed the 4 to qualify for match play. It turned out, Tilley was within two shots of the cutline at 1-over 142.
“You hate to start bogey-bogey,” said Tilley, the MGA’s 2022 Player of the Year. “But I had to tell myself that those are two of the holes many people are going to bogey out here. When it happens in the middle of your round, it’s a little easier to digest. Starting that way, you feel like you are behind the 8-ball. I didn’t hit my best shot into 12, but I was able to make a [critical] up and down [for par], which kind of got me going for the day.”