Firefighter Parziale Faces Wedding Caterer Nichols in Final
October 12, 2017 | Atlanta, Ga.
By Brian DePasquale, USGA
Matt Parziale, a firefighter from Brockton, Mass., and Josh Nichols, a wedding caterer from Kernersville, N.C., each won quarterfinal and semifinal matches Thursday to advance to Friday’s 36-hole final match of the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. The final is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. EDT and will be held on the par-70, 7,207-yard Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course
Parizale, 30, and Nichols, 26, will be playing for the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy and a full exemption from local and sectional qualifying into the 2018 U.S. Open Championship, scheduled to be conducted June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, in Southampton, N.Y.
“It would be the biggest thing I could ever imagine,” said Nichols about playing for a national title and a U.S. Open berth. “But the only thing I’m focusing on is the drive on No. 1 [on Friday]. That’s all I’ve got in my mind right now.”
Parziale, who is competing in his ninth USGA championship, came from 5 down with eight holes to play in the morning quarterfinals to topple Bradford Tilley, the top seed and medalist from stroke play, in 20 holes, and then defeated Dan Sullivan, 50, of Pasadena, Calif., 5 and 4, in the semis.
“This is what all mid-ams want,” said Parziale, who had never won a match in three previous U.S. Mid-Amateurs appearances. “I am excited to be here and I am excited for opportunity.”
Nichols outlasted Mark Harrell, 32, of Lookout Mountain, Ga., in the semifinals when he sank a 6½-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 1-up victory. In the quarterfinals, Nichols upended Scott Anderson, the No. 3 seed, 2 up.
In a match where both competitors played bogey-free rounds – with the usual match-play concessions – Nichols made consecutive birdies on holes 12 and 13 to pull ahead of Harrell, who qualified for the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club as an amateur. He found the green in two on the par-5 12th with a 265-yard 3-wood to set up his first birdie and then striped a 9-iron to within 2 feet at the par-3 13th.
Harrell, whose previous best showing in the Mid-Amateur was advancing to the Round of 32 in 2015, eventually squared the match on the par-4 17th with a 10-foot birdie putt. He looked to be in good position on the next hole but pushed his approach to the right of the green. However, he managed to get up and down for par by holing an 18-footer. Meanwhile, Nichols’ 167-yard 7-iron approach settled just left of the flagstick to set up his winning putt.
“Good players come up in big moments, he did there,” said Nichols, who displayed his short game prowess on Nos. 14 and 16 with a near chip-in and brilliant bunker shot, respectively, to halve both holes with pars. “I didn’t think it would be that putt, but I said, ‘I’m going to have a putt to win or tie, so focus on making your putt.’”
Parziale, the No. 9 seed in the match-play bracket, used the momentum of his morning comeback victory to get off to a quick start against Sullivan, who was making his second consecutive semifinal appearance. He made an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-4 fourth to build a 3-up margin and never trailed.
In knocking off Tilley, Parziale’s run started with a 25-foot birdie putt at No. 11 and a two-putt birdie on the par-5 12th. He would go on to post winning pars at 15 and 16 before making a 20-footer for birdie on No. 17 to square the match.
“I was just trying to hit good shots,” said Parziale, who played three years as a professional before regaining his amateur status in 2013. “Maybe I got little head of myself early, but I am proud that I was able to get myself back and respond.”
After the 18th and 19th holes were halved with pars, the quarterfinal moved to the par-4 second. Tilley, 34, of Easton, Conn., flew the green with an 8-iron from the fairway, leading to a bogey. Parziale would sink a 5½-foot par putt to clinch the win.
“I thought I stuffed it when I hit it,” said Tilley, who fell ill before Tuesday’s first round of match play and later made a trip to the emergency room where he received fluids through an IV. “I thought I was going to put a lot of pressure on him, and it just didn’t work out.”
Nichols, who played as a collegian at Appalachian State from 2009-13, went in front early in his quarterfinal match with Anderson, 35, of Columbus, Ohio. Nichols made a 30-footer for birdie on No. 4 and sank a 9-foot birdie putt on No. 7 for a 2-up advantage. Anderson’s birdie at No. 14 cut the deficit in half, but Nichols employed a solid short game to stay ahead over the closing holes. He used a 60-degree wedge to get up and down for a par from the right side on the par-4 16th and chipped to close range for another par on No. 17.
Earlier in the day, Harrell, who shot the equivalent of a 63, with concessions, in his Round-of-16 match on Wednesday against Michael Muehr, had to rally on the inward nine to eliminate Tyler Crawford, 44, of Indio, Calif., in 19 holes. Down 2 holes at the turn, Harrell made a 35-foot birdie putt to grab a 1-up lead on No. 15.
However, Crawford, who totaled 10 birdies over 25 holes played in his previous two matches, made a 3 on the par-4 17th to square the match and had another birdie look from the fringe on 18, only to see it just barely slip past the hole. Harrell took advantage on the 19th hole, the par-4 first, by striking a 159-yard 8-iron to 2½ feet for what eventually became a conceded birdie and a berth in the semifinals.
“You know you’ve got to make birdies to beat these guys,” said Harrell, who was a member of a University of Alabama team with 2012 U.S. Open runner-up Michael Thompson. “Because all these players that are still out here are good.”
In the quarterfinals, Sullivan posted a 3-and-2 victory over Joshua Irving, 31, of Dallas, Texas. He struck a 3-iron tee shot to within 4 feet on the 213-yard, par-3 15th to set up a birdie and a 3-up cushion. Irving, who reached the quarterfinals for the third consecutive year, also lost to Sullivan in this round last year at Stonewall, in Elverson, Pa.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. This week’s play was postponed for a full day earlier in the week due to the impact of Tropical Depression Nate.
The semifinalists, Sullivan and Harrell, receive a two-year exemption into the U.S. Mid-Amateur. The 2018 championship will be played Sept. 22-27 at Charlotte Country Club and Carolina Golf Club, in Charlotte, NC.
Both finalists are exempt into the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course, in Pebble Beach, Calif. Besides a 10-year Mid-Amateur exemption, the champion also receives a likely invitation to the 2018 Masters.
Brian DePasquale is the USGA’s manager of championship communications. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.