Friends' Encouragement Lifts Wilder Past McCoy October 6, 2015 | Vero Beach, Fla. By David Shefter, USGA

Advice from top mid-amateurs has helped Brad Wilder reach the quarterfinals this week at John's Island Club. (USGA/Chris Keane) 

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The texts from good friends and top mid-amateur golfers all had the same general theme: they implored Brad Wilder not to settle for or be complacent with his early success at John’s Island Club.

Wilder, 36, of Fort Wright, Ky., had never advanced beyond the Round of 64 in any of his six previous USGA appearances, so he was in uncharted territory on Tuesday at the 35th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. A pair of past U.S. Mid-Amateur runners-up, Bill Williamson and Tim Spitz, were among those to encourage Wilder to plow ahead. 

After a 3-and-2 victory over Blake Johnson in the Round of 32, Wilder found himself facing 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and 2015 USA Walker Cup competitor Mike McCoy, of Des Moines, Iowa, a man with an impressive amateur résumé that could be intimidating. Wilder heeded his buddies’ advice and took it as a challenge.

“I’ve tried to have this go-for-it mentality this week,” said Wilder. “Mike [McCoy], Scott [Harvey], Nathan [Smith] and Todd White are guys who are certainly a cut above. But I think all of us are working stiffs with jobs and families, and anybody is capable of beating anybody. Whoever can handle the pressure and execute when you have to is the one who gets it done.”

That person on Tuesday was Wilder. Despite McCoy’s credentials and noteworthy summer – which includes being low amateur in the U.S. Senior Open for a second consecutive year – Wilder advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-and-2 victory.

It’s a win that certainly will bring a smile to close friend Williamson, who lost to McCoy, 8 and 6, in the Mid-Amateur championship match two years ago at the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.). Wilder saw the match up close, having made an impromptu trip to support Williamson.

“I’m sure he is happy for me,” said Wilder of Williamson, who was eliminated in Monday’s Round of 64. “We want the best for each other. To beat Mike is sort of a dream-come-true. He’s Mike McCoy, for goodness sake. He’s a guy I’ve looked up to as I’ve tried to become one of the better mid-amateurs in the country. To beat him is very special.”

Unlike many players in the field, Wilder never turned professional after graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 2001. He was recruited by then-coach John Reis out of Covington Catholic in Cincinnati to play for the Bearcats, who had future PGA Tour player Jim Herman on the roster. Wilder played three seasons with Herman, then chose business school over Q-School. He and his wife Nicole waited seven years to start a family.

Wilder focused on his wealth management career at First Third Bank in Cincinnati. But after a few years, he found himself missing the competition and the travel. With his wife’s support, Wilder rededicated himself to the game. He revamped his swing under the tutelage of Traditions Golf Club professional John Leach, the husband of 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Martha Leach, and he started attempting to qualify for USGA and other major events. In 2011, he defeated defending champion Robert Gerwin II to win the Cincinnati Metropolitan Amateur.

“Life gets a little boring just going to work and doing the same thing every day,” said Wilder, who has two young boys, Luke, 6, and Colin, 4. “Back then, my wife said if you are going to do this and commit to it, you might as well get better at it.

“My family is unbelievably supportive. My wife understands … a little bit why we goofy guys do what we do. She’s been very upbeat when we talk and wishing me the best of luck. This game is hard enough if you are not thinking clearly and worried about other things.”

Wilder’s father and father-in-law flew down to support him this week. Close friend and co-worker Greg Weirich is serving as his caddie. His ex-college coach, Reis, flew in from Scottsdale, Ariz., to watch him and Williamson, another native of Cincinnati, compete in the stroke-play rounds.

On Monday, Wilder’s stay in the draw looked tenuous. He quickly fell 3 down to Brian Noonan before rallying to square the match on the 10th hole. He then lost Nos. 11-13 to fall 3 down again with five to play. On the par-5 14th, Wilder faced a difficult third shot, where he had to punch a 6-iron from the pine straw to the green. He pulled off the shot and made a birdie to start a stretch of four victories in five holes to seal a 1-up, come-from-behind win.

“That was the turning point of the whole tournament,” said Wilder. “But everyone who has ever won this event can attest you have to have a break or two to win the whole golf tournament, and that was clearly my break and luckily I am taking advantage of it so far.”

Wilder said one factor to his success this week has been his comfort level with the bermudagrass. In college, the Bearcats played a lot of events in Florida. Wilder also has competed in many amateur events in the Sunshine State, so he’s accustomed to the turf.

“Chipping and pitching out of this stuff is difficult and I spent a lot of time on that,” said Wilder of his pre-championship preparations. “It’s been a big difference in all of my matches. I have chipped it better than my opponents.”

He is unlikely to have that advantage in Wednesday’s quarterfinal match against Jess Daley, 37, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., an ex-professional who regained his amateur status earlier this year. Daley played one season on the PGA Tour in 2001 after graduating from Northwestern a year earlier. He also played five seasons on the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour.

Wilder, who has watched his friend Jim Herman compete many times on the PGA Tour, draws inspiration from his recent good form. If anything, Herman’s performance has motivated Wilder.

“I’m pumped,” said Wilder, who earned a spot into next year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur by reaching the quarterfinals. “This is great.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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