For the last 18 months, there has been little doubt who the best two mid-amateur golfers are in the United States. Stewart Hagestad has been the cream of the 25-and-older set since he became eligible in 2016 and claimed the first of his two U.S. Mid-Amateur titles.
Lately, the native Southern Californian has had a challenge to that throne in Evan Beck, a 33-year-old reinstated amateur from Virginia Beach, Va., who starred at Wake Forest University and has been hitting the amateur/mid-amateur circuit with fervor.
They each have crossed paths many times. Both were invitees to the 2023 USA Walker Cup Team informal practice session with Hagestad making his fourth consecutive team and going 2-1 at St. Andrews to lead an American Sunday comeback.
Both are in the top 100 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR® – Hagestad at No. 16 and Beck at 85 (he’s the fourth-ranked mid-amateur in the world behind Hagestad, 2022 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matthew McClean, of Northern Ireland, and Caolan Rafferty, of the Republic of Ireland).
Each show up in the same big amateur competitions such as the Western Amateur, Sunnehanna, Jones Cup and Northeast Amateur, and at big mid-amateur events, including the Coleman Invitational (Seminole) and Crump Cup (Pine Valley). Beck, in fact, announced his reemergence to the amateur game last May when he and partner Dan Walters, his former assistant coach at Wake Forest, reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at the Country Club of Birmingham.
But until Thursday, the two mid-amateur heavyweights had yet to meet head-to-head in a USGA championship. Perhaps it was apropos that their initial encounter came in the 36-hole final of the 42nd U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Sleepy Hollow Country Club.
While neither was a single-digit seed from stroke play, they skillfully maneuvered their way through five matches – and multiple weather delays – on this C.B. Macdonald gem that was recently restored by Gil Hanse and George Bahto.
However, the outcome of this “dream” duel will have to wait until Friday when the 36-hole match resumes at 7 a.m. with Hagestad holding a 5-up advantage. Because the weather delays altered the championship schedule, the final had to be split between two days, the first 18 contested on Thursday afternoon and the second the following morning.
“Yeah, I played solid,” said Hagestad, the winner of the 2016 Metropolitan Golf Association Amateur who now resides in New York City due to his position as a financial analyst for Chicago-based BDT & MSD Partners. But it's no different than anyone else in the field. I think that's the only way to really approach it is like everyone is really good, and he knows he's really good. He's got plenty of gas in the tank. Got to go just decompress and do it all over again.”
This is the third consecutive year the Mid-Amateur’s final match has been extended past its original schedule. Last year, the competition didn’t finish until Saturday. Two years ago at Sankaty Head on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, Hagestad defeated Mark Costanza, 2 and 1, on a Friday due to several lengthy fog delays that forced the championship to an extra day.
On Thursday, the semifinal matches needed to be completed, thus creating this unique overnight break between rounds.
While Hagestad said the situation isn’t the same as 2021, at least on the scorecard this feels eerily similar to Sankaty Head when he led by as many as 7 holes before going into the overnight break with a 5-up lead.
Should he hold this advantage, Hagestad would become the third player in Mid-Amateur history with three or more titles, joining Pennsylvanians Jay Sigel (three) and Nathan Smith (four).
Playing under bright sunshine with comfortable temperatures in the low 70s and a nice breeze, Hagestad continued his front-running role against Beck. The lanky University of Southern California graduate, in fact, has not trailed since the 10th hole of his Round-of-32 match on Tuesday against Costanza, a stretch that now stands at 78 holes.
Against Beck, the runner-up in the past two Coleman Invitationals, Hagestad shot the equivalent of 7-under-par 64, with concessions, without making a bogey.
“Make birdies,” said Beck, the 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up, when asked what he has to do in the second round. “What did I make, two today (actually four)? That's just not good enough. He didn't make any mistakes. The only bad shot he hit turned out to be eight feet on No. 8, made birdie there. But yeah, he played great. There's nothing I could really do aside from play better.”
Hagestad registered four birdies over the first eight holes, including two straight on Nos. 7 and 8 to go 3 up before Beck knocked a 52-degree wedge approach from 126 yards to 3 feet for a winning birdie to trim the deficit by one hole going into the inward nine.
On the par-5 12th, Hagestad came up short of the false front with his second and decided against chipping the ball up the slope. His monster putt nestled to 6 feet for a birdie and a 3-up lead. He laughed when asked about his decision to use the putter.
“I wasn't chipping that,” said Hagestad. “That [birdie] was nice.”
So was his 3 on the shortened par-4 13th hole, one in which he drove the green and two-putted from 60 feet for a 4-up advantage. The margin swelled to 5 up when Beck, a two-time Virginia State Golf Association Mid-Amateur champion, missed the 14th green from the left rough and failed to reach the putting surface in four shots, eventually conceding Hagestad’s 2-foot par putt.
They tied the remaining holes, although Hagestad came up a revolution or two short on his 16-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to go 6 up.
Both semifinal matches that were contested on Thursday morning were nailbiters. Hagestad, who made 14 birdies in winning his two matches on Wednesday, could muster just one against Sam Jackson, 30, of West Columbia, S.C., in a 1-up victory.
With the match tied on 18, Hagestad executed a brilliant flop shot from gnarly rough left of the green, the ball trickling to 2 feet for a conceded par. Jackson’s approach from the fairway found the deep greenside bunker to the right of the green and his recovery shot went 28 feet beyond the flagstick. When his par putt rolled 5 feet by the hole, hats came off and Jackson offered his congratulations.
“I don’t need to hit it again,” said Hagestad of the recovery shot. “It was very good.”
Beck fell 2 down to Ole Miss accounting professor and Ph.D. candidate Brett Patterson, 31, of Oxford, Miss., after six holes, but methodically clawed his way back, taking the lead for good on the par-3 16th hole when his bogey trumped Patterson’s double bogey. He then rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on No. 17 to close out the match.
The resumption of the 36-hole championship match will be at 7 a.m. EDT on Friday. Admission is free and spectators are encouraged to attend.
“He's played really well. I've watched from afar. He's won a lot of stuff in the state of Virginia. He's been right there at the Coleman the two years we played together. He's really good.” – Stewart Hagestad on his championship-match opponent
“Didn't see anyone, went and decompressed. Golf is hard. I asked [the USGA] for more time. I needed as much time as I could just to get ready and be mentally prepared. I think it was like five or six minutes [on the practice range].” – Hagestad on what he did between matches on Thursday
“Yeah, definitely not the best golf that I've played. But good enough to get to the finals. Hopefully we'll be better tomorrow.” – Evan Beck
“Sleep, go to bed early. Nothing. We've been getting up at 4:30, 5 [a.m.] every day, trying to get these holes in [because of the weather], and got 18 more hopefully.” – Beck on how he plans to prepare for the second round of the final
“That I can play with anybody, at least at the mid-am level. I'm really encouraged about that. I didn't feel like I had near my best stuff today and still almost won … to go to the championship match. I feel like I'll be back again. I'm just blessed to be here again. This game, I've experienced the downs and … if anybody knows my story, I had full-on anxiety my last year of college. I didn't think I would ever enjoy this game again.” – Brett Patterson on his run to the semifinals in his first U.S. Mid-Amateur start
“I don't really set a ton of goals, so just take one event at a time and see what happens. Obviously, taking a ton of confidence away from this week because it was a good run.” – semifinalist Sam Jackson
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.