In 38 previous U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships, no foreign-born player has claimed the title. Three have managed to reach the final match, the last being Garrett Rank seven years ago, but Lukas Michel, of Victoria, has a chance on Thursday to make history.
Michel, 25, earned his spot in the 36-hole championship match by ousting 2016 champion Stewart Hagestad, 28, of California, 2 up, in the semi-finals on Wednesday afternoon at Colorado Golf Club. His opponent will be Joseph Deraney, 36, of Mississippi, who eliminated Jason Schultz of Texas, 1 up, in the other semi-final match.
The final is scheduled to begin at 7 am (CDT) and will resume after lunch at 12:30 pm, with the champion receiving an exemption into the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot Golf Club and a likely invitation to The Masters.
“I mean, yeah, a spot at the U.S. Open and [a likely] invite to the Masters. Pros can play their whole life and not get that opportunity. Nothing gets better than that I don’t think,” Michel said of the spoils on offer to the winner.
Michel is the third Australian to reach a USGA final in 2019, joining US Women’s Amateur champion Gabriela Ruffels and US Senior Women’s Amateur runner-up Sue Wooster.
Much like Tuesday, the competitors faced breezy conditions for most of the day, which included quarterfinal and semi-final matches. But fortunately, a nearby thunderstorm broke up and never caused a suspension of play.
Michel, who grew up in Perth, is accustomed to playing in the wind, and the No. 281 golfer in the World Amateur Golf Ranking grabbed a 3-up lead after nine holes on Hagestad, the No. 5 player in the WAGR and top-ranked mid-amateur.
But Hagestad, coming off helping the US to a victory in the Walker Cup match at Royal Liverpool in England, slowly chipped away at his deficit and eventually took a 1-up lead with a birdie on the par-5 15th hole. Michel rebounded with a gorgeous 5-iron approach to 10 feet, setting up a two-putt birdie to tie the match. Hagestad then got confused by the swirling wind on the 210-yard, par-3 17th tee and missed the green with his tee shot, leading to a bogey. Michel two-putted for par and took a 1-up lead to 18.
A good drive and approach left Michel with a 15-footer for birdie. Hagestad, however, found a fairway bunker and his second with a 7-iron flew the green, leading to a tricky and fast downhill pitch and run. Michel lagged his putt to 2 feet, and when Hagestad failed to convert his par putt, he conceded.
“It wasn’t that far off,” said Hagestad of his tee shot on 18. “I mean, as my body begins to get tired, I have a tendency to tug it left. Just hit a little heely one that had the bunker maybe not been there, probably would’ve cut back to the middle of the fairway.
“I hit an awesome second shot; right in between clubs. I mean, [my] adrenaline is pumping, but I don’t know about that. Maybe in retrospect I should have tried to nuke an 8[- iron].”
Deraney also saw a 3-up lead on the second nine dwindle to 1 against Schultz. Schultz hit a remarkable recovery shot to 8 feet from gnarly rough on No. 13 to set up a winning birdie, and the University of Missouri graduate won the par-5 16th with a par.
On 18, Deraney, a stay-at-home dad, blistered his drive 50 yards past Schultz, but it was the Texan who wound up closer to the flagstick after their approach shots. Deraney carefully lagged his putt to 2 feet for a par. Schultz, needing to convert to force extra holes, failed to convert from 12 feet.
“It wasn’t my best putt,” said Schultz. “At least I had a chance. For a while [in the match], it wasn’t looking like I was going to have a chance. At least I had a putt to try to extend it. That’s all I can ask for.”
Added Deraney, a Mississippi State University graduate: “I’m very excited. Just to get to play in USGA events is special treat. We all typically count how many we’ve played in, right? So it’s a special treat. To play so well is something really fantastic.”
In the morning quarterfinals, Michel needed 20 holes to eliminate Jacob Koppenberg after seeing a 4-up lead with five to play evaporate. Koppenberg made two birdies and an eagle before winning the 18th hole with a par to force extra holes. After both players birdied the par-5 19th hole, Michel prevailed by two-putting for par from 20 feet on the 152-yard, par-3 20th.
“I knew I was still playing well. Like, he (Koppenberg) was the one that kind of ate into my lead. I think he was like four under [over] three [consecutive] holes on the back nine. I was one under and I lost three of them. You kind of just got to ignore that stuff and keep playing your own game. I think that’s what I did,” Michel said of his quarterfinal match up.
Deraney, meanwhile, defeated Yaroslav Merkulov, 2 & 1. Hagestad played the equivalent of 5-under golf – with concessions – to eliminate No. 63 seed Nick Geyer, while Schultz defeated Andres Schonbaum, 3 & 2.