Monday Notebook: Big Rallies Fall Short September 26, 2010 By Stuart Hall

Past champion George Zahringer III nearly pulled off an amazing rally on Monday, but wound up falling in 19 holes to John Engler. (Robert Walker/USGA)

Bridgehampton, N.Y. — More than just the weather, Monday proved to be an overcast day for George Zahringer III and Mike McCoy.

On a dank and drizzly morning in the 30th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship’s first round at Atlantic Golf Club, both players nearly pulled off the improbable.

Four down to reinstated amateur John Engler through nine holes, the 57-year-old Zahringer rallied and took a 1-up lead to the 18th hole, but lost on the 19th hole.

I hit the two worst drives on the week on those last two holes, Zahringer lamented.

McCoy found himself 5 down to Tim Mickelson after eight holes. McCoy then won holes Nos. 9, 10, 11, 12 and 14 to square the match. Bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17, though, left him leaving Long Island after a 2-and-1 loss to Mickelson, of San Diego, Calif.

I’ve had my day in the sun in the Mid-Am, said Zahringer, the 2002 Mid-Am champion and 2003 Walker Cup member who was making his 16th Mid-Amateur appearance. Maybe there will be another one, but even if I won I was probably going to face [reigning champion] Nathan Smith [Tuesday] morning anyway.

McCoy, of West Des Moines, Iowa, is 10 years Zahringer’s junior, but on Monday wondered aloud how many realistic opportunities he has left to win this national title. In 2005 and 2008, McCoy lost in the semifinals.

It’s frustrating, McCoy said. I came in ready, I had pointed toward this for the past year, and then I didn’t play all that well, got into a hole and it was too much.

While Zahringer said he would leave on Wednesday for the USGA Senior Amateur, which opens Saturday in Orlando, Fla., McCoy will go home and reassess his game.

You know, I drove the ball great, but I just got spastic with my putter at the start of the round and three-putted two or three times, he said. It’s not like I don’t work on my game, but I guess I just need to keep trying to improve. Who knows, maybe one day will be mine to shine.

Come Again?

Anyone familiar with the U.S. Mid-Amateur has heard the names Jay Sigel, John Spider Miller, Tim Jackson and Nathan Smith — all multiple winners of this 30-year-old championship.

Then there are players like Steve Harwell, who is the type of competitor the USGA had in mind when this championship was created. Harwell is making his ninth Mid-Amateur appearance.

Harwell, 47, of Mooresville, N.C., is a financial adviser for New York Life Insurance Co. Despite his numerous appearances, though, he has never advanced past the third round — and he only reached that round in 1993. But he keeps qualifying.

This is just a great event, it’s one I always hope to qualify for and then get into match play and advance, said Harwell, who improved his Mid-Am match play record to 4-5 with a 6-and-4 win over Tripp Davis.

In Harwell’s Mid-Am travels, he is a bit partial to Eugene Country Club in Oregon just for the mere fact he advanced to the third round. He has also taken a liking to the layout at Atlantic this week. Part of the reason, he said, is that it is a design that is not often found back home.

Awesome, he said. This place just has so much character. The wind is the course’s best defense. We have some courses along the coastline [in North Carolina], but nothing like this.

Harwell was not about to predict how far he might advance, but admitted the frustration of not advancing deep into the bracket is beginning to mount.

I just cannot get over the hump, he said. I do the best I can, but I just can’t seem to get beyond that first or second round. I’m not sure what I need to do.

In Mitchell's Wheelhouse

Todd Mitchell enjoys match play.

That he does not play the format often is not relevant. Nor were the weather conditions on Monday morning.

It was wet, not much rain, but a layer of dew, balls skipping in the fairways … said Mitchell, of Bloomington, Ill., the 2008 U.S. Mid-Am finalist at Kiawah Island Club. But it doesn’t necessarily matter as long as you play better than your opponent and move on.

Mitchell did just that in the form of a 5-and-4 victory over Richie Taylor of Snellville, Ga.  After some thought, Mitchell said the last time he played match play was during his ’08 run.

For me it’s just a little easier, he said. Maybe it’s because if you make a double bogey you’re not giving two shots back to the field, you’ve just lost the hole. But it’s easier for me to get back into the match.

Given the usual concessions of match play, Mitchell was two over par through the 14th, including a double bogey on the par-4 third hole. The deficit was the only one Mitchell faced.

Here Doggie

Seen walking around, calmly taking in the sights of this week's Mid-Amateur, is Wyatt, a 7.5-year-old golden retriever owned by Atlantic Golf Club head golf professional Rick Hartmann and his wife, Claudette.

"You mean the baby Jesus," she said when asked about the dog's back story.

Wyatt quietly strolls the grounds and can often be found sprawled out in the pro shop. The Hartmanns acquired Wyatt when he was just four months old and part of a 14-pup litter. On return trips back to Florida, the Hartmanns reunite Wyatt with his parents and three brothers.

According to Claudette, Wyatt has been a hit with the players and spectators.

"People are not used to seeing a dog around the course, but the club members love him," she said. "I think if you're a dog lover and you come out here, he sort of makes you feel at home."

The Numbers

In the two rounds of stroke play at Atlantic Golf Club this weekend, not one of the three most difficult holes was the same.

On Saturday, par-4 holes Nos. 14, 5 and 12 were the three most difficult — playing to a scoring average of 14.189, more than two strokes over par. On Sunday, par-4 holes 9, 16 and 17 took the top three honors, and played to an identical 14.189 total.

Such stats are not kept in match play due to the number of concessions, but there are still some interesting numbers.

On the front nine of Monday’s 32 matches, the fourth and sixth holes were won in 75 percent of the matches, meaning that in the remaining eight matches the holes were halved. The seventh was won 23 times. In fact eight of the nine holes were won by either player more than 50 percent of the time.

On the back nine, play was a bit more conservative. Holes Nos. 10-12 were won in 20 of the 32 matches (62.5 percent). From there — and not including extra holes — no hole was won more than 64 percent of the time. 

Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship websites.