BETHLEHEM, Pa. –Before match play began at the 34th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship Monday at Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course, a 16-for-3 playoff needed to be conducted at 7 a.m. EDT on the Weyhill Course to finalize the 64-player field.
After an hour and 37 minutes, Zach Atkinson, 32, of Colleyville, Texas; Brad Valois, 27, of Warwick, R.I.; and Kevin Grabeman, 28, of Columbus, Ohio, were the last three standing.
Playing in the third group of four on the 414-yard, par-4 first hole, Atkinson posted the first birdie of the playoff after hitting his approach to 10 feet. Atkinson drew No. 3 seed and 2013 runner-up Bill Williamson for his first-round match.
Eleven players made par as play headed to the difficult 440-yard, par-4 ninth with two spots left.
Valois, the medalist in the 2012 Mid-Amateur at Conway Farms Golf Club in suburban Chicago, switched tactics from his earlier rounds on No. 9. After previously hitting 3-wood off the tee, the damp morning conditions allowed him to pull out his driver. After landing in the fairway, he was left with 144 yards to the hole. He normally would play a 9-iron from that distance, but opted for a three-quarters 8-iron. The shot wasn’t perfect as the ball landed 30 feet short of the flagstick on the edge of the green. He read a 18 inches of left-to-right break and executed the stroke perfectly for for a dramatic birdie.
After making the Round of 16 last year, Valois is happy to hit the reset button on two days of up–and-down golf.
I didn’t have a particularly good first few days, said Valois, who advanced to face fellow lefty and stroke-play co-medalist Brad Nurski, the No. 2 seed. I look at this as a second chance. I didn’t have much of any luck the first two days, so hopefully this changes my luck and gives me a little more confidence.
Considering the difficulty of the ninth hole, Valois had to feel good about his chances of advancing with one foursome remaining.
After some good tee shots and approach shots, however, multiple birdies seemed plausible.
Dave Womack, 35, of McDonough, Ga., the 2005 Mid-Am champion, found the middle of the fairway off the tee, Grabeman hit a beautiful 8-iron approach to 10 feet and Joseph Rice IV, 25, of Dunkirk, Md., was nearly in the same spot as Valois with his approach.
However, Womack found a greenside bunker and Rice, the youngest player in this year’s field, narrowly missed a 35-footer from just off the green for birdie, setting the stage for Grabeman to close things out. He did just that, draining the right-to-left putt.
I hadn’t made a putt all week, said Grabeman, who faces co-medalist Scott Harvey in the Round of 64. I figured now’s the time, right? I made that. It was exciting. I’m really glad to play here.
Grabeman actually came up short in a 3-for-2 playoff at the Cincinnati, Ohio, qualifier and made the field as an alternate.
This feels like a little bit of redemption, he said. I had really high hopes coming here. I hit the ball really well. In match play, you never know what can happen. Make some putts and you have a chance against anyone.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.