U.S. AMATEUR
McCoys Relish Father-Son Journey to Pinehurst August 13, 2019 | Pinehurst, N.C. By Stuart Hall

Nate (left) and Michael McCoy are the first father-son team to play in the same U.S. Amateur in seven years. (USGA/John Mummert)

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Sitting on a patio at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Mike McCoy listens and processes as his son Nate, sitting a few feet away, reflects on some moments the two have shared through golf.

There were all the days Mike spent teaching Nate how to play the game. There was the time Nate was on hand to see Mike chip in on the final hole to win a tournament. There was the U.S. Amateur in 2002 when Nate, then 12, caddied for his father. Nate caddied for Mike again at the 2014 Masters, six months after Mike won the U.S. Mid-Amateur. And there were the countless smaller, but no less significant, moments.

The conversation then shifts to Mike, whose eyes are about to overflow with tears. His words are stifled by his emotions.

“It’s been great,” he manages to say without spilling any of the tears. “Not many people get to do that. You travel a lot of roads together and this is a pretty nice place to end up and be with your son.”

Where Iowans Mike, 56, of Des Moines, and Nate, 29, of Ankeny, have arrived is this week’s 119th U.S. Amateur Championship, both as players in the 312-player field. This marks just the fifth known instance of a father-son combination playing in the same U.S. Amateur, and the first since Philip and James Pleat in 2012. The first to do so were Dick and Dixie Chapman in 1958.

The McCoys had an earlier opportunity to achieve the feat. In 2009, Nate qualified for his first U.S. Amateur, while Mike was an alternate from the same qualifying site. He ultimately caddied for Nate.

“I had no idea how many [father-son duos] had previously played together, so to be a part of history is neat,” said Nate, who won a playoff to earn the second and final spot in a sectional qualifier on July 15 at Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa – the same course where his father first caddied as a kid. “He kept reminding me that he was already in [by way of a four-year exemption for being a member of the 2015 USA Walker Cup Team], so I needed to go punch my ticket. Of course I always want to make it, but when I made it this year the accomplishment was that much more meaningful.”

While Mike has no intention of making this week’s 60th USGA championship appearance his last, he recognizes what an outlier he is becoming in a field that has an average age of 22.1. Only Sean Knapp, 57, of Oakmont, Pa., is older.

Citing age and, as he put it, “too few tools in the toolkit” to navigate U.S. Amateur layouts, Mike admits that this 20th U.S. Amateur is likely going to be his last. His first was the 1984 edition at Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla., where he missed the cut.

“Back then a lot of the best players in the field were mid-amateurs. There were a couple of hot-shot college guys,” said McCoy, whose debut U.S. Amateur was won by Oklahoma State University’s Scott Verplank. “Today, there’s just a handful of mid-amateurs in the field. So that’s how the game has changed.

“The quality of play from the younger kids has improved. Equipment has changed a lot. The courses have all gotten bigger. The game is still the same, but how you play it is different.”

Asked to assess each other’s playing styles, the responses were similar: straight driver of the ball, but not overpowering; sterling short game; strong putter; and a fierce competitor who can make for a daunting opponent in match play.

Though from different generations, their golf careers have followed a comparable path.

Mike played collegiately at Wichita State University and then went to PGA Tour Qualifying School twice. “Back then there really wasn’t a secondary tour. You either got your tour card or you went to Asia,” said McCoy, who became a reinstated amateur in 1988. He did not embark on a serious national amateur playing schedule until his early 30s, after his business career in the insurance industry was established.

Nate played at Iowa State University, then spent nearly six years on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada with a bit of Korn Ferry Tour status mixed in. The birth of his daughter three years ago precipitated a career change. He is currently the manager of championships and course rating for the Iowa Golf Association and became a reinstated amateur last year.

“I’d sure like to play as high of a level as I can,” Nate said. “Had a blast when I was an amateur before, playing in the summers and various tournaments. It would be nice to play the USGA championships. Not sure I could play as much as he has, though.”

For all the talk about Mike’s past and Nate’s future, they are firmly in the present this week.

Would they like to square off against each other in Sunday’s 36-hole final? Absolutely. But there are no illusions of such a compelling storyline unfolding.

“We are just going to let the chips fall where they may and see how it goes,” said Mike, who played both practice rounds with Nate. “I’m going to grind pretty hard and I still think if I play some good golf I can somehow manage to get into match play. But I am going to have to play awfully well.”

Nate believes his father still has a run in him. If not, and neither one makes the final 64, they will appreciate this week for its greater significance – a father and son walking fairways together like so many other fathers and sons do.

“We’ve had a lot of great memories through golf,” Nate said. “It hits you when you start thinking back on everything that led up to this.”

Mike wholeheartedly agrees. 

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.

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