Call it the calm before the storm.
With rain, possibly heavy at times, in Sunday’s forecast, the 264 competitors in the 41st U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Erin Hills and stroke-play co-host Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in Wauwatosa, Wis., had a golden opportunity to take advantage of idyllic conditions in Saturday’s first round of stroke play.
Pleasant temperatures, a gentle breeze and virtually no humidity provided a nice environment on the challenging layouts, one created in 1926 (Blue Mound) and the other in 2006 (Erin Hills).
Defending champion Stewart Hagestad was one who took full advantage. Hagestad, a quarterfinalist in last month’s U.S. Amateur at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., and a three-time USA Walker Cup competitor, carded a 6-under-par 64 at Blue Mound for a one-shot lead over two players who shot 65: Dalton Melnyk posted a bogey-free, 6-under 65 at 7,309-yard, par-71 Erin Hills, and 2022 Arizona State graduate James Leow had a 65 at 6,766-yard, par-70 Blue Mound.
Competitors play one round at each venue before the field is trimmed to the low 64 scorers for match play, which is scheduled to begin on Monday. Weather could throw a wrench into the proceedings as a storm is expected to dump between a half-inch and 2 inches of precipitation over the next 24 to 48 hours.
Hagestad, 31, of Newport Beach, Calif., who is bidding to become just the third player in championship history to garner three or more titles, posted a seven-birdie, one-bogey effort at Blue Mound, a classic Seth Raynor design. His lone hiccup came on the par-3 17th when he missed a 6-footer for par after failing to reach the green with his tee shot.
It’s the second time Hagestad has posted a 64 in a USGA championship, the first coming in the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur on Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course in Atlanta, Ga. Jim Wilson owns the championship record of 63, shot in 2000 on the Lower Course at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.
“I thought about [the record] on 18 after I hit the [par-5] green in two,” said Hagestad, who starts a new job with Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners on Oct. 3. “But I did a nice job of staying in the present.”
Leow, 25, of Singapore, is not a typical mid-amateur competitor. Four months ago, he was completing his college eligibility for the Sun Devils. Because Singapore requires all males to serve in the military upon reaching their 18th birthday, Leow spent nearly two years as a platoon sergeant By the time he entered ASU as a freshman, he was 21, the age of many seniors. A torn labrum also curtailed his junior year.
Back to full health, Leow has enjoyed a solid summer, playing on the victorious International Team at the Palmer Cup in Switzerland in early July, then winning the Pacific Coast Amateur a few weeks later at Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland, Ore. Among those he edged out for that title was Caleb Surratt, who would finish as the U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up a week later at Bandon Dunes.
After the U.S. Mid-Amateur, Leow will compete in Stage 1 of Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying School at Southern Dunes in Maricopa, Ariz.
Exempt into the U.S. Mid-Amateur off his lofty status in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR® (currently No. 61), Leow figured this week would be a great opportunity to face strong competition while also representing Singapore. The winner earns an exemption into the 2023 U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club as well as a likely invitation to next year’s Masters. Should Leow prevail, he would be the first player from Singapore to compete in either major championship.
“That would require a change of plans,” said Leow, who currently plans to turn professional after the final stage of Q-School Nov. 4-8 in Savannah, Ga., provided he gets there.
Between bogeys on his opening and closing holes – he started on No. 10 – Leow registered five birdies and an eagle, a 4-iron to 6 feet on the 559-yard 18th hole. Among the birdies were four in a row from No. 2 (his 11th of the day), including a 5-iron to a foot on the demanding 215-yard third hole.
Melnyk, 42, of Atlanta, Ga., the son of 1969 U.S. Amateur and 1971 British Amateur champion Steve Melnyk, did something his father never did in his USGA career: card a 65. Steve’s best round was a 68 in the 1970 U.S. Amateur at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore. Like his father, Dalton attended the University of Florida, and he’d love to join him as a USGA champion.
He round included three consecutive birdies from No. 5 (his 14th hole of the day after starting on No. 10).
“Whether it has a USGA in front of it or a Georgia State Golf Association in front of it, it’s just a golf tournament and I know how to do that,” said Melnyk, who works in the insurance business. “There is some intimidation at first; I felt overwhelmed in my previous experiences. I felt like I belonged in 2019 (Mid-Amateur) and I know I belong this year.”
Hugh Foley, of the Republic of Ireland, was two strokes back of Hagestad with a 66 at Blue Mound.
Torey Edwards, of Long Beach, Calif.; Sam Foust, of Edina, Minn.; Ben Cooley, of Phoenixville, Md.; Matthew Naumec, of Wilbraham, Mass.; Sam Jones, of New Zealand; 2022 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball champion Davis Womble, of Winston-Salem, N.C.; and 2019 runner-up Joseph Deraney, of Tupelo, Miss., all shot 67s at Blue Mound, with Cooley making an eagle 2 on No. 16.
Harry Bolton, of Australia; Jake Shuman, of Boston, Mass.; and Thad Hudgens, of Longwood, Fla., posted 3-under 68s at Erin Hills.
Round 2 of stroke play is scheduled for Sunday. Once stroke play is completed, the field will be trimmed to the low 64 scorers for match play, which is scheduled to begin on Monday at Erin Hills. Any playoff required for the final spots would take place at Erin Hills, starting Monday morning on No. 10, if the weather cooperates.
“That was my first [U.S.] Open. It was tough to compare to what an Open should look like. I thought it was tough. Brooks [Koepka] didn’t, but I did.” – Stewart Hagestad on Erin Hills during the 2017 U.S. Open
“Definitely not the best [finish], especially when the course is playing relatively short for me. I had a lot of short irons and wedges [into the greens].” – James Leow (65 at Blue Mound) on his final-hole bogey
“Everyone here is acting like it is Christmas morning. Everyone is so excited to be here. But you have to put the peg in the ground and just go play golf. If anything, it kind of normalizes more knowing that my dad (Steve) and brother (Butler) have both played in these and had success.” – Dalton Melnyk on playing in USGA championships
“This is my 10th USGA [championship] and every time in the past I’d get so nervous because it’s super-important. I remember the Junior I played in 2005 [at Longmeadow Country Club] was kind of the same thing. [There] was out of bounds left and I smoked it left. I’ve gotten better mentally and not getting nervous [on the first tee].” – Jack Schultz (even-par 70), of Milwaukee, Wis., who hit the opening tee shot off No. 1 at stroke-play co-host Blue Mound Golf & Country Club
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brian DePasquale, a senior manager of championship communications, contributed.