Michel of Australia First International Player to Claim U.S. Mid-Amateur Title
When Bill McCarthy, the director of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, addressed the 264 competitors at the players’ reception, he noted the strength of the field, calling it the best in the event’s 39-year history. The USGA took steps to add more depth to the championship for players 25 and older by amending the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) exemption, from anyone among the top 400 at the close of entries to the first 30 age-eligible competitors in the WAGR. As a result, 25 of the eligible 30 entered the championship.
This move provided an easier avenue for top-echelon mid-amateurs to compete at Colorado Golf Club and stroke-play co-host CommonGround Golf Course.
For international players, the thought of spending hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars to compete in an 18-hole qualifier in the U.S. with limited spots just didn’t make sense.
The biggest beneficiary turned out to be Lukas Michel, 25, of Australia. While the Melbourne resident might have qualified under the previous exemption category – he was No. 287 when the championship began – he recognized the significance of the move.
“Obviously, [it] makes the field stronger and harder to win and all that, but I'm obviously happy that exemption category was added,” said Michel.
Two years removed from earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Melbourne, Michel twice rallied from 3-down deficits in the 36-hole championship match to defeat Joseph Deraney, 36, of Tupelo, Miss., 2 and 1, and become the event’s first international champion. Four foreign-born competitors had previously reached the final, but none had managed to hoist the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy.
“Being the first international to win, I mean, it's a massive thing,” said Michel, who rose to 148 in the WAGR. “Being the first of anything to win something is always a great feeling.”
Michel earned exemptions into the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club, the next two U.S. Amateurs (Bandon Dunes in 2020 and Oakmont Country Club in 2021), and a likely invitation to the 2020 Masters Tournament.
It was the putter that ultimately carried Michel past Deraney, the winner of the 2018 and 2019 Canadian Mid-Amateur and the 2019 Mississippi Amateur.
Deraney, a stay-at-home dad to three children under the age of 6, also came into the championship as a WAGR-exempt player at No. 220. He seemed in control of the final after taking a 3-up lead through 23 holes.
Michel’s birdie on the 30th hole tied the match and two more on Nos. 33 and 34 – both par 5s – gave him the lead for good.
“It wasn't my best ball-striking day,” said Michel, who helped fund his trip to Colorado by working as a caddie at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. “Joe hit the ball way better than me. When you're putting good, it always looks like you're sort of coming from behind and making it happen.”
One day earlier, Michel reached the final by eliminating 2016 champion and two-time USA Walker Cup competitor Stewart Hagestad, 28, of Newport Beach, Calif., 2 up. In the quarterfinals, Michel’s 4-up lead with five to play was wiped away by Jacob Koppenberg, of Bellingham, Wash., but Michel prevailed in 20 holes.
Plenty of other marquee players exited earlier than expected. Defending champion Kevin O’Connell, of Jacksonville, Fla., endured déjà vu against Andres Schonbaum, of Argentina. He went 19 holes for the second straight year with Schonbaum, who prevailed this time in the Round of 32. Another past champion, Scott Harvey, of Greensboro, N.C., played the longest match of the week – 23 holes – in bowing out to Derek Busby, of Ruston, La.
Thanks to Michel’s performance, the Mid-Am trophy is headed out of the country for the first time. Should this trend continue, the USGA might want to get the magnificent silver cup a passport.
|Four international players had previously advanced to the championship match without winning the title: Scott Mayne (Bermuda, 1988); Warren Sye (Canada, 1995); Wayne Raath (South Africa, 2000) and Garrett Rank (Canada, 2012).|
|Joseph Deraney’s caddie, Sadie LeCheminant, was looping in her second USGA championship final. She won with Rinko Mitsunaga when Mitsunaga teamed with Mika Liu to capture the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball title at Bandon Dunes, where LeCheminant was a caddie.|
|Deraney gave up a sponsor’s exemption into the Sanderson Farms Championship, a PGA Tour event in Jackson, Miss., that overlapped with the Mid-Am, after he qualified for match play. He earned the spot in that event by winning the 2019 Mississippi Amateur.|
|Lukas Michel was a high school teammate of 2016 U.S. Amateur champion Curtis Luck in at the Hale School in Perth.|
|The quarterfinal bracket was made up of two players from California, and one each from Argentina, Australia, Mississippi, New York, Texas and Washington state. There were four players in their 20s, three in their 30s and one in his 40s.|