Leow Leaving Foes in the Fog; Among Final 16 at Erin Hills
Mother Nature threw the 41st U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship another curveball on Wednesday morning when fog caused a 30-minute delay for the resumption of the Round of 64 that was suspended due to darkness on Tuesday.
Following Sunday’s storm – 4 inches fell at Erin Hills – this was just another blip on the radar for the best 25-and-older golfers hoping to add their name to the Robert T. Jones Memorial Trophy and earn a spot in next year’s U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club.
The good news? Once the fog lifted, the 26 matches that weren’t completed on Tuesday, as along with the 16 second-round contests, were all concluded well before sunset.
Defending champion Stewart Hagestad, of Newport Beach, Calif., the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 8 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR®, 2014 champion Scott Harvey, of Greensboro, N.C., 2022 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball champion Chad Wilfong, of Charlotte, N.C., and 2021 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Mark Costanza, of Morristown, N.J., were among the notables to advance into the Round of 16.
Co-medalists Jake Shuman, of Boston, Mass., and Sam Jones, of New Zealand, did not fare as well. Shuman was defeated by Bryce Hanstad, of Edina, Minn., 2 up, and Jones by Scott Turner, of Stuart, Fla., 4 and 3.
But the day’s most impressive performance belonged to 25-year-old James Leow, of Singapore, who has yet to lose a hole through two rounds. Leow, No. 60 in the WAGR, eliminated 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Evan Beck, of Virginia Beach, Va., 8 and 7, tying the fourth-largest margin of victory in an 18-hole match in this championship. In 23 holes of match play, Leow has produced video-game-like numbers: 10 birdies and one bogey. He was 6 under in his win over Beck.
This is just a continuation of a strong summer season for Leow, who graduated in May at the age of 25 after helping Arizona State to a runner-up finish in the NCAA Championship at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. In July, he led the International team to victory at the Arnold Palmer Cup in Switzerland and won the Pacific Coast Amateur in Portland, Ore. He also represented his country in the World Amateur Team Championship in France Aug. 31-Sept. 3; Singapore finished 21st as a team and he tied for 58th as an individual.
Before arriving at ASU as a 21-year-old freshman, Leow spent 22 months serving in the military as part of his country’s mandate for all males who reach their 18th birthday. Next week, he heads to Stage I of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School in Maricopa, Ariz., although he said his plans to turn professional at year’s end would change should he win the U.S. Mid-Amateur, since the player must be an amateur to be eligible for the U.S. Open exemption and likely invitation to next April’s Masters.
His golf through two stroke-play rounds and two matches has looked worthy of a champion.
“I just feel like the key out here was hitting really good tee shots and just being on the fairway,” said Leow. “I’ve done a great job about that, hitting the fairways, keeping it way down there in the fairway, hitting short or like mid-irons into the green, and getting it close.”
Hagestad, 31, spotted Stephen Hale, of Bakersfield, Calif., an early 2-up lead, thanks to a pair of impressive opening birdies, before taking four of the next five holes – three with birdies – in posting a 5-and-3 win. The quarterfinalist in last month’s U.S. Amateur in New Jersey, who also captured this title in 2016, is bidding to join Pennsylvanians Nathan Smith (four) and Jay Sigel (three) as the only players with three or more U.S. Mid-Amateur titles, and Smith and Jim Stuart as the only players to successfully defend.
“Yeah, it's crossed my mind,” said Hagestad of possibly making history, “but I haven't really given it a lot of thought. I talk to Nathan a lot. We're very close. To be one step closer, that would be really cool. But just go back to the U.S. Am. It's not even that you can’t get ahead of yourself, it's just like everyone is really good.”
Harvey, 44, was the victim of Hagestad’s 2016 triumph when he rallied from 4 down late to post a 37-hole victory in one of the best 36-hole finals in championship history. After defeating former Oklahoma State standout Trent Leon, 3 and 1, in his suspended Round-of-64 match, Harvey won the first three holes against Chris Thayer, of Golden, Colo., before holding on for a hard-fought 3-and-1 victory.
Costanza eliminated Jason Steiner, of Fort Mill, S.C., 4 and 3. Wilfong registered a winning par on the 21st hole to defeat Yale graduate Thomas McCarthy, of New York, N.Y.
Also advancing to the Round of 16 was 2014 runner-up Brad Nurski, of St. Joseph, Mo., a 6-and-5 winner over 2021 U.S. Mid-Amateur quarterfinalist Christian Sease, of Mt. Pleasant, S.C. The long-hitting left-hander won five of six holes in the middle of the match, a stretch that included birdies on 8, 10 and 12. He stuffed his approach to 2 feet on No. 10 and then hit a 70-yard wedge approach on the 437-yard 12th to 8 feet.
Andrew Paysse, of Temple, Texas, the brother-in-law of world No. 1 and current Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, held off No. 8 seed and current University of San Diego assistant men’s golf coach Sam Faust, of Edina, Minn., 1 up.
With the championship back on “schedule,” the Round of 16 and quarterfinals will take place on Thursday, starting at 7 a.m. CDT and 12:15 p.m., respectively. The semifinal matches are scheduled for 7 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. on Friday, followed by the first round of the 36-hole championship match at 12:30 p.m. The championship match will resume on Saturday at 7 a.m.
“I'm pretty new to Mid-Am, so I'm just figuring out the extension, the stay at a hotel, those rental car extensions. Got stuff back home that I need to deal with too, like [car] insurance and a housing application, so just been busy with that. Just trying to get my mind off golf once it's done out here. As soon as I leave the golf club, I want to be golf-free and reset. The matches are only going to get tougher, so just expecting it to be tough always and just all gas, no brakes.” – James Leow when asked what he’s doing in between his quick matches
“The first thing that came to mind was how hard it is to walk up and down the hills, and I'm really feeling it right now. But I'll tell you what, the frame of the U.S. Open was here, that setting on 9 tee box with all the surrounds – that was one of the coolest environments, and 18, as well. Nine was probably the coolest environment I've ever been in. That was awesome. Sad to see that there's not 40,000 people here.” – Scott Harvey on returning to Erin Hills, where he competed in the 2017 U.S. Open
“That's the reason why you come. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I had a chance to win or make a deep run. I've got a lot of people that helped me out back home, especially my wife and my buddies along with my other duties I've got now with being an assistant [men’s and women’s] golf coach [at Division II Missouri Western State]. It's a little bit more hectic, but I'm enjoying it.” – 2014 runner-up Brad Nurski
“She's not super technical, but she has obviously had a very good caddying career. She doesn't have near the player now that she used to (current world No. 1 and brother Scottie Scheffler). But she keeps it light. We're just out here having fun. We're not going to take it too seriously. We're not going to yell at each other or argue on a club or something.” – Andrew Paysse on having his caddie/wife Callie (Scheffler) Paysse on his bag
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com. Brian DePasquale, a senior manager of championship communications, also contributed.
Sep 15, 2022