EAST NANTMEAL – A funny thing happened on the way to the first hole of sudden death in Michael McDermott’s tense round-of-16 match with Derek Busby of Ruston, La. in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Stonewall’s Old Course Tuesday.
Busby blinked. The 32-year-old recently reinstated amateur stunningly missed a less-than-two-foot putt for par on the final green at the 6,870-yard, par-70 Old Course layout and suddenly the match was over. McDermott, who won his third BMW Philadelphia Amateur title at his home course, Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course, was through to the quarterfinals with a 1-up victory.
“You know, you look at a two-foot putt and you think, ‘I can make that,’” said McDermott at the end of a long day in which he twice won on the picturesque finishing hole at Stonewall. “But when it’s a two-foot putt to extend a match that gets you into the quarterfinals of something like this, it’s different.
“I’m sure I’ve won matches like that before, but not a match of this importance, of this stature.”
McDermott, a Haverford High and Saint Joseph’s product, squares off with Stewart Hagestad in a quarterfinal match at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday in a meeting between the reigning Golf Association of Philadelphia and Metropolitan Golf Association Amateur champions.
The 25-year-old Hagestad is a former collegiate standout at Southern California who recently transplanted to New York. He reached the quarterfinals with a 3 and 2 victory over Jason Anthony of Fairfield, Calif.
What made the finish of the McDermott-Busby match even more stunning was the machine-like efficiency with which Busby went about his business all day. One of just four players who completed 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying under par at Tom Doak’s twin creations at Stonewall, Busby fell behind when McDermott birdied the par-5 first, then made a birdie on the par-4 second that McDermott matched, and made birdie on the par-5 third to even the match.
“Derek’s really an exceptional player,” said the 41-year-old McDermott, an investment adviser, after a quick interview with Fox’s Holly Sonders. “I come out birdie, birdie, par and he goes par, birdie, birdie and the match is all square. I said to my dad (Neil) walking off the third green, ‘If I’m mediocre against this guy, I’m going to lose this match. I have to play lights out to beat this guy.’”
Maybe battling his pal Jeff Osberg for 36 holes in an epic Philadelphia Amateur final earlier this summer was just the kind of preparation McDermott needed to face an opponent like Busby.
Busby inched ahead when McDermott missed a seven-footer for bogey at the tough par-4 fourth. And the uphill battle was on. Busby kept throwing haymakers and McDermott kept bobbing and weaving.
McDermott made a four-footer for par at the fifth for a half. He got a five-footer for par to fall at the sixth for a half after his drive caromed off a tree on the left side of the hole and ended up on the right side of the fairway. He knocked in another five-foot par putt for a half at the seventh after Busby nearly holed his bunker shot.
McDermott couldn’t save par from jail right of the eighth to briefly fall 2-down before a two-putt par at the ninth got him back to 1-down.
And that’s the way is stayed for a while. McDermott made a tough 10-footer for par to halve the 10th, Busby’s birdie try at the 12th lipped out, McDermott couldn’t coax in a four-footer for par that would have given him a win at 13, Busby got a piece of the hole on a chip for birdie at 14 and then Busby’s seven-foot birdie try at the 15th somehow stayed out of the hole.
So McDermott was still 1-down when they arrived at the tee at the 499-yard, par-4 16th. Earlier in the day when McDermott was trying to nurse a 3-up lead against Joe Alfieri of Lutz, Fla., he putted off the green at the 16th and lost the hole.
He was determined to drive it in the fairway.
“I kept hitting it too far left off that tee, I just needed to cut it just a little bit,” McDermott said. “My caddy has been trying to talk me into a 2-iron off the tee and I’m like, ‘Are you insane? I can’t a hit a 2-iron off the tee on a 500-yard hole.’
“No. 12 at Merion is like that and I know how to cut it there and get it in the fairway.”
This time he got it right in the middle while Busby found the left rough off the tee. Busby’s approach was short while McDermott hit a 7-iron that just trickled off the right side of the green, leaving him an uphill chip. Busby blew his chip over the green and when McDermott chipped to gimme range, the match was all square.
Both left 20-foot birdie putts short in the jaws at the par-3 17th and the stage was set for the strange finish.
“I had 167 to the pin, 145 to the front from the right rough and hit a gap wedge,” McDermott said of his approach to the 18th. “I thought it was going to roll down a little more.”
Busby lasered his approach from the middle of the fairway eight feet above the hole. McDermott’s 15-foot birdie try just slid by. Busby had a putt to win the match. He missed it. And then he missed again.
Five hours earlier on the same 18th green, Alfieri missed a 12-foot birdie putt and McDermott made his two-footer for par to hold on for a 1-up win. In his eighth U.S. Mid-Amateur appearance McDermott had reached the third round for the first time. By the end of the day, he was in the quarterfinals.
“The difference has been making five-footers,” McDermott said. “I’m hitting it adequately, but I’m making some big putts. They’re not 20-footers, they’re six- and seven-footers, like the one on five, one on six, one on seven and the one on 10.”
There’s always been a sneaking suspicion that McDermott is not just one of the best mid-amateur players in the Philadelphia area or Pennsylvania, but as good as any in the country. A berth in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Mid-Amateur only validates that feeling.
Yardley Country Club’s Christopher Ault got stopped one step short of the quarterfinals as he dropped a 3 and 2 decision to Scott Harvey, the 2014 U.S. Mid-Am winner at Saucon Valley Country Club and a member of the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team.
Harvey blitzed his way to a 4-up lead after eight holes. Ault was able to cut the deficit in half by winning the 11th and 13th holes with birdies, but Harvey was able to close him out by winning the 16th with a par.
Ault reached the round of 16 with a 3 and 2 victory over Brad Valois of Warwick, R.I. in an early match Tuesday.
Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Gregor Orlando, despite having one of Stonewall’s top caddies, Pat Dougherty (“one of?” Pat Doc is screaming) on the bag, fell, 2 and 1, to qualifying co-medalist Michael Muehr in a second-round match early Tuesday.