Professions Run the Gamut Among U.S. Mid-Amateur Field September 22, 2018 | Charlotte N.C. By David Shefter, USGA

Benjamin Hayes is a third-generation U.S. Naval Academy graduate who flies and instructs pilots on the P-8 Poseidon. (Benjamin Hayes)

U.S. Mid-Amateur Home

The Honorable George (Buck) Brittain II has presided over a wide array of cases from his perch, everything from traffic tickets, DUIs and shoplifting to violent felonies.

Such is the nature of being a district court judge in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 29th District. The 51-year-old from rural Tazewell County, located in the southwest part of the state, has averaged 300 cases a day since being appointed nearly three years ago to oversee one of the Commonwealth’s largest districts in terms of area, but smallest in terms of population.

“You see a lot of different stuff,” said Brittain as he prepared to play his final practice round on Friday in the 38th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.

While the most popular disciplines among the 264 competitors are finance, insurance, real estate and self-employed business owners, there are several players such as Brittain who are outside of that scope.. The field also includes a pair of college professors, a U.S. Navy pilot/instructor, a clinical research coordinator who is working on his master’s in epidemiology, two firefighters, full-time caddies (including one who works on the PGA Tour), a wedding caterer and an amateur hockey referee (see table below). 

Whether he’s in Tazewell or one of the other three counties within the district, there’s always a new set of circumstances and characters. That’s why after earning a computer-science degree and an MBA from Virginia Tech University, Brittain, who got the nickname Buck (short for Buckshot) at a young age from his outdoorsman father, chose to take a different career path. He couldn’t put his undergraduate degree to use in Tazewell in the late 1980s and he didn’t enjoy the banking industry with his MBA, so his parents recommended law school. His grandfather, George Brittain (Buck’s given name is George R. Brittain II), was an attorney for 60-plus years.

So Brittain practiced law for 18 years before the state legislature appointed him to a six-year term in 2015. Squeezing in golf is challenging, but in the summer months he’ll often play or practice after 5 p.m. and on  weekends when he’s not tending to his family, which  includes a 4-year-old daughter.

Although most of the cases before him result in fines or stiff warnings, Brittain did sentence a repeat alcohol offender to 465 days in jail.

“I enjoy it,” said Brittain, who has won the last two Virginia State Golf Association Senior Opens, of his position on the bench.. “I think it’s a service to the Commonwealth [of Virginia]. I like dealing with the people. A lot of times they are upset with you, but my experience is if you treat them with respect – even though you may not be doing what they want you to do – they understand [you have a job to do].”

Duty Calls

Ever since he was six years old, Benjamin Hayes dreamed of being a Navy pilot. His ambition was reaffirmed on a trip to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., with his grandfather when he was in eighth grade. Hayes fell in love with a place where his great-grandfather and his three brothers all graduated in the 1920s, and later became 2-star admirals, and his grandfather, Tim Wellings, captained the golf team in 1947, and graduated with the likes of future U.S. President Jimmy Carter .

Interesting Player Professions in 38th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship
Nick Biesecker Staunton, Va. Managing director for sports agency (clients include Lexi Thompson and Jhonatton Vegas)
Buck Brittain Tazewell, Va. District court judge (Virginia's 29th District)
Sherrill Britt West End, N.C. Self-employed building contractor
Ian Dahl Carmel, Calif. Marketing, membership and communications coordinator for Northern California Golf Association
Marc Dull Winter Haven, Fla. Full-time caddie at Streamsong (Fla.) Resort
Anthony Fowler Chicago, Ill. Associate professor in University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy
Benjamin Hayes Jacksonville, Fla. U.S. Navy pilot/instructor (P-8 Poseidon aircraft)
Kevin Moore Athens, Ga. Associate professor of mathematics at University of Georgia
Josh Nichols Apex, N.C. Wedding caterer
Brad Nurski St. Joseph, Mo. Conductor/switchman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway
Sam O'Dell Hurricane, W.Va. Cosmetic dentist
Matt Parziale Brockton, Mass. Firefighter for Brockton Fire Department
Jay Reynolds Austin, Texas Tour manager for singer/songwriter Monte Montgomery and American punk rock band NOFX
Kyler Sauer Valencia, Calif. Firefighter for the City of Burbank
Corby Segal Santa Clarita, Calif. PGA Tour caddie for Brandon Hagy (has carried for Tom Hoge, Brandt Jobe and Briny Baird)
Lewis Simon Torrance, Calif. Research coordinator at UCLA Health (dialysis center) who is working on his master's degree in applied epidemiology at Cal State Northridge
Matthew Sughrue Arlington, Va. Marriage and family therapist
Brad Tilley Easton, Conn. Tech start-up entrepreneur who developed an app that rates caddies and that handles social gifting
J.R. Warten Pismo Beach, Calif. Caddie at Pebble Beach/Spyglass Hill
Brad Wohlers Vadnais Heights, Minn. Hockey referee/linesman for NCAA, USA Hockey and high school

Hayes became a third-generation graduate of the Academy and followed Wellings’ footsteps as captain of the golf team in 2010-11. He won three times and had nine top-10 finishes, but chose Flight School over Q-School, a decision he doesn’t regret.

Since graduation, he’s made two deployments on the P-8 Poseidon aircraft – one in Asia and another in the Middle East – and the 30-year-old currently serves as a Weapons and Tactics Instructor at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla.

The P-8 is a multi-dimensional aircraft that can be used to spot submarines from 200 feet above sea level to doing reconnaissance missions at 38,000 feet. It can carry four missiles on its wings and five torpedoes in its belly. That versatility allows for search-and-rescue missions as well as escorting aircraft carriers. And its sheer size allows Hayes to occasionally pack his golf clubs.

“There’s no room for clubs on an F-18, but there sure is on a P-8,” he said. “I chose the P-8 because it allows me to be more land-based.”

When he relocated to Jacksonville, he joined Timuquana Country Club, which features a classic Donald Ross layout and is just minutes from his residence. Even on busy days at the base, he is often ableto play nine holes or hit balls once he’s finished with his duties.

Of course, it took some explaining to his fellow troops on how special it is to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Amateur. This is Hayes’ first USGA championship after three failed attempts at the U.S. Amateur and just missing out on the Mid-Am last year. He won the 2017 Armed Forces Championship by eight strokes and helped the USA take gold in the World Military Golf Championship.

Anthony Fowler has taught political science at the University of Chicago since 2013. (Univ. of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy)

“When I told them the winner gets to play in the Masters and the U.S. Open, they said, ‘Holy smokes, it is a big deal,’” said Hayes. “This is just a treat to make it this far and playing against guys who play a lot more golf than me.”

Old College Try

Anthony Fowler and Kevin Moore are anomalies around their fellow faculty members. Few political science professors within the University of Chicago’s prestigious Harris School of Public Policy play golf. Ditto for those within the mathematics department at the University of Georgia.

“There might be one other person within the public-policy school that has clubs and plays from time to time,” said Fowler.

Fowler, a San Diego native who decided as a teenager that his future was in academia and not the PGA Tour when he couldn’t beat junior golf rivals such as Jamie Lovemark, Rickie Fowler and Kevin Chappell, migrated east to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then Harvard University for graduate school, earning his Ph.D. in political science.

From there, he landed a position on the faculty at the University of Chicago in 2013 and is now a tenured professor who analyzes data from elections and the American political process.

Classes at the University of Chicago begin Oct. 1, so qualifying for his first Mid-Amateur didn’t require him to miss valuable time. He typically rotates between undergraduate and graduate school classes, but 80 percent of his time is spent on research.

Kevin Moore loves working with mathematics graduate students at the University of Georgia, where he is a tenured professor. (Kevin Moore) 

So fitting in time to play and compete on the golf course is challenging. He traveled to Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., for his Mid-Amateur qualifier, finally breaking through after “25-30 attempts.”

“This might be my greatest competitive golf accomplishment,” said Fowler. “So I am trying to enjoy it as much as I can. I’ve been practicing hard as I have since my junior golf days … and my game feels good. I feel if you are good enough to qualify, you are good enough to win the whole thing.”

Moore, 36, of Athens, Ga., is getting reacquainted with USGA championships for the first time since he missed the cut in the 1999 U.S. Junior Amateur at the Country Club of York (Pa.). He went on to play at the University of Akron, where he became passionate about applied mathematics. Seeking warmer climate, he earned his master’s and Ph.D. in mathematics at Arizona State University, but ironically, he played little golf while he was there. It wasn’t until he landed a faculty position at Georgia in 2010  that a few friends got him interested in playing again. He joined Athens Country Club and last year started playing in Georgia State Golf Association events.

When he qualified for the Mid-Amateur, he had to arrange with faculty members and his graduate students to take over his two classes. He teaches pre-calculus to undergrads and research methods to graduate students. He also has a class for freshman just to stay engaged.

When he qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Watchung Valley Golf Club in New Jersey last month, Moore got emotional. Older and wiser, he appreciates such opportunities much more.

“When I played in the Junior [in 1999], I was in over my head,” said Moore. “I didn’t know what it was. This one, I have a little more perspective. I realize how special is.”

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

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