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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hagestad gets Masters invitation; O'Sullivan headed for Duke

   A couple of interesting items on the amateur golf scene picked up from the amateurgolf.com website.

   When Stewart Hagestad completed his remarkable comeback from four down with five holes to play to capture the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Stonewall on the 37th hole, it wasn’t completely clear if the win would be accompanied by a coveted invitation to The Masters, the first major professional championship each April at Augusta National.
   The USGA kept saying Hagestad would “likely” receive a Masters invitation as a result of his U.S. Mid-Amateur title. Hey, far be it from me to question the people who run The Masters or the USGA on what the criteria is for making the grade for what is undeniably the most exclusive field in golf every year.
   It probably didn’t hurt Hagestad’s cause that The Masters was founded by Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur golfer in the history of the game, and the tournament has gone out of its way to get as many deserving amateurs in the field as possible.
   And make no mistake about it, Hagestad is deserving. He never led the scheduled 36-hole final at Stonewall’s North and Old courses until his 14-foot birdie putt on the 37th hole, the tough par-3 ninth on the Old Course, found the hole to give him the victory over 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey.
   Wielding a long putter with the Bernhard Langer-like, just-barely-not-anchoring stroke, Hagestad was having trouble getting putts to drop early in the day, but when they started falling, he couldn’t miss. Four down to Harvey, Hagestad made a 13-footer for birdie at 14, a tough six-foot birdie try at 15 and a clutch 11-footer for birdie at 17 to leave him 1-down heading to the 36th hole.
   When Harvey hit a poor approach at 18, Hagestad was ultimately conceded a 20-foot birdie putt, although the way he was putting, it probably would have gone in. That sent it to the 37th and Hagestad completed his comeback by draining his 14-foot birdie putt.
   Hagestad’s invitation to Augusta came Dec. 30 and the former Southern California standout immediately took to Twitter and Instagram to let the world know he had received it, including a picture of the invitation.
   “I have long dreamed of the day that I would have the chance to read this letter with my own eyes,” Hagestad tweeted. “This invitation represents the single most significant individual goal that I have ever set for myself – the opportunity to compete in The Masters.”
   Hagestad will be competing against many of the players he faced as a junior and collegiate player at Augusta. A native of the Los Angeles area, Hagestad moved to Manhattan after accepting a finance job and won the Metropolitan Amateur title last summer. At age 25, he was eligible for the Mid-Amateur for the first time last year and was the second youngest winner of the event.
   It should be a pretty memorable year for Hagestad as two of the USGA’s biggest amateur events, the U.S. Amateur and the Walker Cup Match against Great Britain & Ireland will be staged on two of his hometown L.A.’s most highly regarded layouts.
   The U.S. Amateur will be at Riviera Country Club, the annual site of the L.A. Open or whatever corporate entity has taken over the name this year. The U.S. Mid-Am win should make Hagestad a solid bet to make the U.S. side for the Walker Cup, which will be held at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course. Hagestad was a member at L.A. Country Club growing up and maintains a junior membership there.
   The other amateur headline was a bit more surprising as it seemed Hannah O’Sullivan was on her way to a pro career.
   If you were anticipating the U.S. Women’s Amateur coming to Rolling Green Golf Club last year, you probably saw O’Sullivan’s picture as a lot of the promotional material had her proudly holding the Robert Cox Trophy she won by capturing the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur title at Portland Golf Club. Problem was, she never did set foot in Delaware County last summer.
   There was a lot of schedules shifted in the world of golf to accommodate the sport’s return to the Summer Olympics. That left the U.S. Women’s Amateur just a week after the Ricoh Women’s British Open. O’Sullivan had earned a spot in the field at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club and she took the trip across the pond.
   Can’t blame her for that. She has already won a pro event, capturing the Gateway Classic, a Symetra Tour event played near her Chandler, Ariz. home, at age 16. That was six months before her U.S. Women’s Amateur win.
   O’Sullivan had committed to Southern California, but then in April announced that she wasn’t going to go to USC. She represented the United States in the Curtis Cup Match at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club near Dublin, the U.S. falling to a strong Great Britain & Ireland side.
   She was one of two amateurs to make the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif. After opening with a solid even-par 72, she ended up in a tie for 69th at 17-over 305. She just missed taking low-amateur honors as Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela was two shots better in a tie for 67th at 15-over 303. Valenzuela is a freshman at Stanford.
   But it looked like O’Sullivan was planning to turn pro right up until she pulled out of an LPGA Qualifying School Stage II event in October. Golfweek had the scoop then as her father Greg emailed the magazine, saying that O’Sullivan had changed her mind and wanted to play college after all. Hey, woman’s prerogative.
   In the final week of 2016, her decision came down with Golfweek again getting the scoop. O’Sullivan will join the powerhouse Duke program this fall and presumably play a full amateur schedule this summer. That would give the Blue Devils the Nos. 1 and 2 players in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking in Ireland’s Leona Maguire and O’Sullivan, respectively.
   “There are so many wonderful colleges in our country, but all aspects at Duke, from the people – coaches, team members, administrators and student body – to the elite academics, golf program excellence, location and traditions and values made Duke the perfect fit for me as a student-athlete and overall person,” O’Sullivan told Golfweek in an email.
   Maguire, a junior, was in the field for the LPGA Qualifying School’s Final Stage held at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. last month, but on the eve of the event, she dropped out, announcing that she planned to play out her career at Duke.
   Maybe Maguire got O’Sullivan’s ear at the Curtis Cup Match or at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where Maguire was the low amateur. They should help make Duke a formidable team for the 2017-2018 season.
   And while neither Maguire nor O’Sullivan was at Rolling Green, Duke sophomore Virginia Elena Carta was. Carta was a runaway winner at the NCAA Championships last spring and then reached the final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green before falling, 1-up, to South Korea’s Eun Jeong Seong.
   It was a heroic effort by Carta as she suffered dizzy spells during the afternoon round of the 36-hole final before falling when Seong drained a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the match.
   Assuming Carta returns for her junior year, Duke will be even tougher still. The Blue Devils won the last of their six NCAA titles in 2014 at Tulsa Country Club, the last year the championship was played as a stroke-play event.

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