54-year-old three wins away from making history September 19, 2011 By Stuart Hall

Randal Lewis, 54, of Alma, Mich., is three wins away from becoming the oldest U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. He was the runner-up 15 years ago and a semifinalist in 1999. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Richmond, Texas – Randal Lewis has played in eight previous U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships, having reached the final in 1996 and semifinals three years later. 

Lewis, 54, admits he has "not been the young guy in 35 years," he joked on Tuesday at Shadow Hawk Golf Club and "can't wait until next year when I turn 55." That milestone would make the Alma, Mich., resident eligible for the USGA Senior Amateur. 

But against Scott Harvey, 33, of Greensboro, N.C., in the third round, Lewis reached deep into the youth fountain. Three down through the 10th hole, Lewis made four birdies en route to a 1-up win.

That match was something special, said Lewis, who can surpass George Zahringer by five years as the oldest Mid-Amateur champion with three more victories. Zahringer was 49 when he won the title in 2002. I can’t play any better than I did. I gave it everything … I can’t do any better.

For as good as Lewis played coming in, a par to halve the 10th hole set his comeback in motion. At the 429-yard, par-4 hole, Lewis hit his worst drive of the day into the right rough and then left his approach into a front-greenside bunker. He did not hit the bunker shot firm enough and left himself a curling 30-foot par putt, which he converted.

I won the 11th to cut into his lead, but when I got on the 12th hole I just said to myself, ‘You need to start making some birdies, he said.

Lewis, who meets medalist Mike McCaffrey in one quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday morning, was a little premature in his personal pep talk as the birdies did not start until the 259-yard, par-4 13th, followed by another at the 562-yard, par-5 14th to square the match.

After Harvey, last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur tri-medalist and quarterfinalist, rolled in a 30-foot birdie at the 169-yard, par-3 17th, Lewis answered with a 15-footer to halve the hole.

If I don’t roll mine in on top of his, I would have really been up against the wall, said Lewis, whose USGA championship résumé features eight U.S. Amateurs, a U.S. Amateur Public Links and a U.S. Senior Open. On the 18th, I just told myself I wasn’t going to lose and I made birdie for the win.

So it’s understandable why Lewis ranked the match as one of his finest, trumping his 3-and-2 loss to John Spider Miller in the 1996 final at Hartford Golf Club and putting it on equal footing with two matches against Jerry Courville, the 1995 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and two-time runner-up.

In Lewis’ march to the final in 1996 he met Courville, of nearby Milford, Conn., in the third round and won 2 and 1. Three years later at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, the two met in the semifinals. Courville won 1 up.

Both were great matches, said Lewis, who was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2009 and was named the Golf Association of Michigan player of the decade for the 1990s.

The first was great because I beat him in his own backyard. There must have been 200 people newsContenting for him. Then at Old Warson it was just another great match as we were trading birdies back and forth … in both of them, really. [Today’s] though is right up there.

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