McCoy a Popular USGA Champion October 9, 2013 | Birmingham, Ala. By David Shefter, USGA

Carlton Forrester made the two-hour drive from Atlanta to watch good friend Michael McCoy win the U.S. Mid-Amateur. (USGA/Steve Gibbons)

Late Wednesday night, Michael McCoy received a text from good friend Carlton Forrester, the 2005 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up. Forrester, who had become close with McCoy since the two met in the semifinals in that 2005 championship at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., wanted to chat quickly by phone.

Would it be OK if he came to Thursday’s Mid-Amateur championship match at the Country Club of Birmingham?

Forrester understands some golfers are superstitious about unexpected arrivals, so he wanted confirmation.

"I knew he was doing fine without me," said the 37-year-old Forrester. "But he said sure, come on over."

Following a morning meeting, Forrester, who works in the municipal bonds business, made the two-hour drive from Atlanta, arriving just in time for the afternoon 18 of the 36-hole final, which McCoy won, 8 and 6, over Bill Williamson.

"It was awesome," said Forrester, who now talks to McCoy weekly. "It just seems like yesterday that Mike and I were playing in the semifinals. We had a heck of a match and struck up a great friendship through the U.S. Mid-Amateur.

"He’s such a nice person, golf aside. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He’s a true gentleman and a great friend. And golf brought us together. Thank goodness for that."

Forrester wasn’t the only person to make an extra trip to watch McCoy on Thursday. Good friend and client Brian Lovett flew in from St. Louis. Mike Dunphy, the former University of Alabama-Birmingham men’s golf coach who still resides in the area, also came out to support McCoy. Dunphy, two years younger, grew up in Iowa and often competed against McCoy in state events.

"The one thing about Mike is he won’t beat himself," said Dunphy, now an equipment rep who understands McCoy’s game.

Besides those in attendance, McCoy received encouraging texts and emails from other good friends. George "Buddy" Marucci, the 2008 USGA Senior Amateur champion and two-time USA Walker Cup captain, provided words of wisdom, as did two-time Mid-Amateur champion Tim Jackson and two-time USGA champion Vinny Giles..

"It might have been 10 years ago, Tim Jackson said to me if he can win one of these, I can win one of these," said McCoy. "And that kind of stuck in the back of my mind. And you just try to keep getting better. You keep trying to make improvements and you hope someday, you’ll be good enough to do it."

McCoy certainly is universally respected among the mid-amateur community. He’s a regular at many big events, including the recently held Crump Cup at Pine Valley in New Jersey, the Coleman Invitational at Seminole Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., and several other major amateur competitions such as the Porter Cup, Western Amateur, Northeast Amateur and Sunnehanna.

This was his 14th U.S. Mid-Amateur and 38th USGA championship dating back to the 1982 U.S. Amateur Public Links when he was 19. Earlier this year, he qualified for the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Amateur.

And some believe McCoy was due to win a title, whether it was a Mid-Amateur or, perhaps, a USGA Senior Amateur when he becomes eligible in five years.

"You play your whole life for a day like today and this has been [30] years in the making for Mike," said Forrester, who understands the difficult challenge of making a championship final in a USGA event. He has yet to make another USGA final after his 10-and-9 loss to Kevin Marsh. "He’s put in a lot of work, and it’s paying off for him."

McCoy is so dedicated to improving his game that he makes a two-hour drive from West Des Moines to see his instructor, former tour pro Tom Sieckmann, who is the director of golf at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club, site of this year’s U.S. Senior Open. He knows it’s an all-day affair, but understands there’s a sacrifice to improve.

"I do make the time to go out and hit balls after work," said McCoy, who works in the insurance business. "Some days you get up early before work and go practice your chipping.

"But I think most of it is when you’re in a tough situation [and] you have to hit a tough shot, you know you’ve done it a hundred, a thousand, times. It’s work [to practice], but it’s a lot of pleasure too."

Of course, it helped seeing Randal Lewis win this championship two years ago at 54. Lewis shattered the mark for oldest champion, but he also illustrated that a 50-something could still compete in this championship.

"I guess every year you think it’s your farewell tour," said McCoy. "But when you love it and it’s in your blood, you keep doing it."

Odds and Ends

McCoy joins Jack Fleck (1955 U.S. Open), Dr. Ed Updegraff (1981 Senior Amateur), Greg Reynolds (2002 Senior Amateur) and Jack Newman (2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links) as native Iowans to have won a USGA title … McCoy wasn’t the only one to have good friends in attendance for Thursday’s final. Brad Wilder from Cincinnati and Indianapolis resident Brian Harris made the seven-hour drive late Wednesday to watch good friend Bill Williamson. Wilder was in Williamson’s wedding. Both Harris and Wilder have qualified for previous U.S. Mid-Amateurs. Williamson was a graduate assistant coach at the University of Cincinnati when Wilder was on the team … A few 2013 Mid-Amateur competitors watched the final, including 2012 runner-up Garrett Rank, who was eliminated in the first round, quarterfinalist Matthew Schneider and semifinalist Kenneth McCready … By winning, McCoy receives a likely invitation to the 2014 Masters. He has played Augusta National twice as a guest … Ohioans are now 0-3 in Mid-Amateur finals. Bob Lewis Jr., of Warren, lost inaugural final in 1981 to Jim Holtgrieve and again in 1984 to Mike Podolak.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer at the USGA. E-mail him at dshefter@usga.org.