EAST NANTMEAL – All week long, Stonewall provided the spectacular backdrop. Thursday, Stewart Hagestad provided the spectacular finish.
The 25-year-old former standout at Southern California authored an epic comeback, dropping a 14-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole at the Old Course, the 37th hole of the match, to capture the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship.
It was his ninth birdie of the afternoon round over the 6,870-yard, par-70 Old Course layout. Yeah, Scott Harvey, the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, conceded Hagestad’s eight-footer on the 18th hole, the 36th of the match, but the rest of the birdies either went in the hole or were short concessions. He was 4-down with five holes to go and yet, somehow, he prevailed.
It was an historic day for the United States Golf Association in that a scheduled 36-hole final would be competed on two different courses for the first time. And 10 hours or so before Hagestad dropped his winning birdie putt, he fell behind when Harvey, a 38-year-old from Greensboro, N.C., parred the first hole on the 6,711-yard, par-70 North Course.
When that winning putt dropped on the ninth hole at the Old Course, it was the only time all day that Hagestad was ahead in the match.
Hagestad was officially listed as being from Newport Beach, Calif., although his finance job forced him to relocate to New York. He was good enough to win the Metropolitan Golf Association Amateur title this summer.
Hagestad needed to reach the par-5 finishing hole at the North Course in two for a birdie that enabled him to cut his deficit from 4-down to 3-down heading to the lunch break. Mentally, though, he wasn’t conceding anything.
“Match play is such a momentum-driven game,” Hagestad said after it was all over. “The difference between being 2-up and 3-up is a lot. The difference between being 3-up and 4-up is a lot more and you get where I’m going with that.
“So if I can get it from 4 to 3 and 3 to 2 and begin the snowball and at least get the tee box back where I could put a ball a play and make him think about it … It’s such a little thing that really makes a big difference over the course of a day, let alone a week.”
Harvey, a member of the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team, quickly restored his 4-up lead by dropping in a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole of the afternoon. When Hagestad three-putted for bogey from inside 10 feet at the par-5 third hole, he was 5-down through 21 holes.
Hagestad birdied the next two holes, but in both cases he was dropping in putts on top of birdies by Harvey, so he was still 5-down. Harvey and Hagestad were inches from each other and 25 feet from the hole on the par-3 fifth. Harvey was deemed to be away and the read by Stonewall caddy Rick Tokonitz was so good, it resulted in two birdie putts falling. At least that's the way it looked from where I was watching.
Harvey gave Hagestad an opening by driving it into the creek on the right of the sixth hole, but Hagestad went even further right into the junk and the hole was halved with bogeys.
Hagestad finally got one back when his 18-foot birdie putt on the par-4 eighth, shortened by 100 yards, found the hole.
“I didn’t want to go to sleep tonight knowing I had left anything out there,” Hagestad said. “Just one hole at a time, one shot at a time. And I was hitting it pretty darn well, I felt like for the last couple days and if I could just see a couple putts go in the hole, I felt like I could get the ball rolling.”
He got it to 3-down with a two-putt par after reaching the par-5 11th in two. There was a crack in Harvey’s armor there, too, as he lipped out a five-footer that would have given him a half.
Hagestad gave it right back by hitting an iron off the tee into a fairway bunker at the 12th, the 30th of the match. It led to a bogey. At 13, Hagestad hit a brilliant approach to five feet and missed the putt.
Wielding the long putter, but just barely not anchoring it, Hagestad didn’t seem to be able to get enough putts to drop. He stood on the 14th tee 4-down. He was running out of holes.
But then a 13-foot birdie putt at 14 went in. And 4 was down to 3. And then a superb tee shot at the par-3 15th finished six feet from the hole and that putt went in. And 3 was down to 2.
Harvey made a bad swing from the 16th fairway, but Hagestad couldn’t take advantage when his attempt to use his putter from 20 yards off the green didn’t quite work out. Harvey was dormie, 2-up with two to play.
But then Hagestad hit it to 11 feet at 17 and that one fell. And 2 was down to 1. And Hagestad was pumping his fist.
Harvey made a bad swing from the 18th fairway, knocking it into the bunker in front. Hagestad drilled his approach to eight feet. He never had to putt it. Harvey blasted it 20 feet past the hole and missed the par putt. He conceded the birdie to Hagestad.
Hagestad stepped up and hit his tee shot at the par-3 ninth 14 feet from the hole. Harvey hit his tee shot 20 feet away. When Harvey’s attempt slid by on the right, Hagestad had his chance.
The decision to use both courses for the final meant that the ninth would be the only hole both players would play twice on this day. Hagestad wasn’t on the same line, but he had gotten a feel for the speed earlier in the day when he left a birdie putt two-and-a-half feet short.
“It broke about a cup from left to right and that one (earlier Thursday) I thought I hit with decent speed and it was a little short,” Hagestad said. “I knew more or less what it was going to do.”
And as it trickled toward the hole, it was just a question of whether it was going to get there. It tumbled in and Hagestad’s comeback was complete.
“I’m proud of the way I competed,” Hagestad said. “It wasn’t exactly where I would put myself to start the day, but I’m proud of the way that I competed.”
In addition to the Robert T. Jones Trophy, Hagestad will likely get an invitation to the Masters, where he can play practice rounds with his old junior rivals Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. He’s exempt into one big amateur event in the town where he went to college, the 2017 U.S. Amateur at Riviera Country Club, and made a strong case to be part of another big amateur event in L.A., the 2017 Walker Cup at Los Angeles Country Club.
All because he just refused to give up on Tom Doak’s two classic layouts in the beautiful farmland of northwest Chester County.
“It’s an absolute dream come true,” Hagestad said. “This is something I’ve dreamed about ever since I can remember and it’s an honor and a privilege to represent mid-amateurs around the country and to have won the championship.”