It seems appropriate somehow that a pair of Irishmen have advanced to the semifinals of the 41st U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Erin Hills. Erin is the poetic name for Ireland in Gaelic, and the 16-year-old course’s logo is a three-leaf clover. Cottages on the property are named for iconic Irish venues such as Ballybunion and Lahinch, and the pub has an Irish theme.
While the layout might not remind anyone of the historic links courses in Ireland, Hugh Foley, 25, and Matthew McClean, 29, have found the surroundings to their liking. And on a glorious Thursday – temperatures in the 70s with breezes in the 10- to 20-miles-per-hour range – the two Irishmen advanced to the semifinals in their first-ever appearance in this championship.
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Foley, of Dublin, the runner-up in last month’s Irish Amateur, eliminated 2022 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball champion Chad Wilfong, of Charlotte, N.C., 2 up, and McClean, a Belfast native who represented Ireland in the World Amateur Team Championship in France two weeks ago, knocked out Scott Turner, 38, of Stuart, Fla., 2 and 1.
They are joined in the final four by Bryce Hanstad, 35, of Edina, Minn., and Josh Persons, 38, of Fargo, N.D. Interestingly, Hanstad was born in Fargo before his family moved to Minnesota when he was a toddler. Persons eliminated a pair of U.S. Mid-Amateur champions on Thursday: defending and two-time champion Stewart Hagestad in the Round of 16, then 2014 titlist Scott Harvey in 21 holes.
Foley and McClean are on opposites end of the draw, so there’s a chance these good friends could face each other in the 36-hole final. A victory by either one would give the U.S. Mid-Amateur its second international champion after Australia’s Lukas Michel in 2019 at Colorado Golf Club. The champion receives a spot in next year’s U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club and a likely invitation into April’s Masters Tournament.
In June, Irishman Padraig Harrington won the U.S. Senior Open, and Rory McIlroy (2011) and Graeme McDowell (2010) are past U.S. Open champions.
“We're getting looked after so well,” said Foley, who this summer became the first player since Darren Clarke in 1990 to win both the North of Ireland Men’s Amateur Open (Royal Portrush) and South of Ireland Men’s Amateur Open (Lahinch) in the same year. “First by Greg [Zeeman] in Chicago, and then by Dan [Benedum], who lives 15 minutes away. There's a lot of Irish contingent out here who are looking after us, which is super. We're having a great time, such a great time.”
Added McClean: “I've spent a good bit of money in the pro shop already, with the shamrock [logo] and all that [merchandise]. It would be unbelievable [to win], really.”
Three times against Wilfong, a former Wake Forest golfer who played briefly on the Korn Ferry Tour before getting his amateur status back in 2016, Foley trailed by a hole before winning three consecutive holes from No. 12 to take a 2-up lead. Foley went to the par-5 18th with a 1-up advantage, and Wilfong eventually conceded the hole when he failed to get up and down for bogey after twice going over the green with pitch shots.
McClean, who is an optometrist, broke open a tie match against Turner, the owner and operator of the Minor League Golf Tour in Florida, with consecutive birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 to grab a 2-up advantage. The players tied the next five holes.
Hanstad, playing in his second U.S. Mid-Amateur, built a 3-up lead through four holes against Andrew Paysse, of Temple, Texas, the brother-in-law of world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, only to see it evaporate by the turn. Paysse took a 1-up lead with a par on the 176-yard 16th hole, but Hanstad hit a nice 7-iron approach on 17 to set up a winning two-putt par after Paysse found the fescue. Two bogeys on 18 sent the match to extra holes, where Paysse hit his tee shot into the penalty area, leading to a double-bogey 6. Hanstad, a consumer data analyst for OptumRx, played conservatively for a bogey that allowed him to advance.
“It'll be a fun day tomorrow,” said Hanstad, who eliminated Ryan Greer, 5 and 4, earlier on Thursday.
Persons had a chance to end his match against Harvey, 44, of Greensboro, on No. 18, but missed a short par putt. Three holes later, he stuffed his 7-iron approach from 179 yards to 18 inches for a conceded birdie. Harvey failed to convert from 25 feet after finding a fairway bunker off the tee.
“I know who those guys are,” said Persons, a reinstated amateur (2018) who qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and won an event on PGA Tour Canada in 2014. “They're both great players. They're big names in the game, in the amateur game. But … they have to put a tee in the ground just like I do. We just kind of hit it and see what happens.”
Hagestad’s bid for a second consecutive title came to a halt when the 31-year-old Southern Californian lipped out a 6-footer on No. 18 to fall, 1 down, to Persons. The defeat stung the No. 8 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR® as he was hoping for a deep run to bolster his chances of making a fourth consecutive USA Walker Cup Team in 2023. Had he won this week, Hagestad, who begins a new job with Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners on Oct. 3, would have teed it up in next year’s U.S. Open at his home course, where he was a member of the victorious 2017 USA Walker Cup Team.
“He played well, and I didn't play well enough to win,” said Hagestad, now 22-4 in six Mid-Amateur starts. “
McClean’s 20-hole victory in the Round of 16 on Thursday morning over 2014 runner-up Brad Nurski, of St. Joseph, Mo., featured a pair of unlikely loss-of-hole penalties by each competitor. After leaving the 10th tee, McClean’s caddie accepted a cart ride from a volunteer, which incurs a loss-of-hole penalty.
Then on the par-4 14th hole, Nurski hit a wrong ball, a violation of Rule 6.3. The long-hitting left-hander managed to tie the match with winning pars on 17 and 18 to force extra holes, where McClean won with a par on the 358-yard 20th hole (No. 2 at Erin Hills).
The two semifinal matches and the first round of the 36-hole final will take place on Friday, beginning at 7 a.m. CDT. The first 18 of the championship match is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m., with the second 18 set for Saturday at 7 a.m. The public is welcome to attend, and admission is free.
“Yeah, it feels like we've been here probably two weeks as opposed to a week, so our [first] practice round was [last] Thursday, and then today is Thursday. So we've been going for eight days, and there's still two days left, so it's going to be a 10-day tournament.” – Matthew McClean
“We play a lot of [match play] back home. We have six major championships, [and off the] top of my head, three of them are this format, 36 [holes] a day. Now, the hills around here make it tougher on you physically, but I'm quite used to it. I've played something like 25 matches this year, 36 a day. It takes a lot of getting used to. Your feet start hurting, but you just keep going.” – Hugh Foley
“I've always said if I can get myself into match play, I've got a good chance to go for a deep run. Match play has always been something I've excelled at and enjoyed.” – Bryce Hanstad
“Look, I'm getting [Scott] Harvey's phone number. This is what it's all about, meeting new guys, having a blast, but at the same time we're competing. He wanted to beat me just as bad as I wanted to beat him.” – Josh Persons on the camaraderie of the U.S. Mid-Amateur
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 to this article.