Wild Swings on Moving Day at the U.S. Amateur
Furious rallies and heartbreaking near-misses defined stoke play qualifying across two very different golf courses
By Alan Shipnuck
August 15, 2023
DENVER—The first two rounds of stroke play qualifying at the 123rd U.S. Amateur were contested at Cherry Hills Country Club, a graceful, old-money enclave tucked into a leafy downtown neighborhood, and Colorado Golf Club, a neo-classic on dramatic terrain in the wilds of Colorado. Baked by 90-degree heat, these two very different courses offered stern but varied tests to the dreamers who turned up to play for one of golf’s oldest trophies (and the chance for a Masters invitation, among other glorious rewards). The story of the first two rounds were the wildly divergent scores many of the competitors posted.
Preston Stout (below, pink shirt), a freshman at Oklahoma State by way of Dallas, went 76-65 (2 under) to make the cut by two strokes. “It’s hard to do,” he said of his bounce-back round at CGC. “I was pretty defeated yesterday knowing that I could have played a lot better than I did.” Asked where the the second-round 65 ranks in his young career, he said, “It’s definitely up there for sure, especially in a big event like this.”
Bowen Mauss (below, white shirt), a 16-year-old high school junior competing in his first U.S. Amateur, outdid Stout by going 78-65. He called his Day 2 rally the best round of his life and credited it to a broadened perspective. “I didn’t have any expectations,” he said. “I just tried to have fun and everything worked out my way.”
Low expectations is not a luxury afforded Stewart Hagestad, the two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champ who made the cut at the 2017 Masters. Hagestad arrived at the Am fighting for a spot on this year’s U.S. Walker Cup team, but it looked like his bid was over by the par-4 5th hole of his first round at Colorado Golf Club, when he drove it into a bunker, bladed the next shot into some bushes, declared a lost ball, took a drop in the same bunker (which plugged), slashed the next shot into another bunker, left that one in the sand and then 3-putted for a 10 that low-lighted a 77. Hagestad fought like hell in the second round to give himself a chance. On the 18th hole at Cherry Hills he drove it into the water but then covered the flag with a 7-iron from 205 yards, a shot he described as “nails” and “sick” in his Southern California patois. He made a 12-footer to save a gutsy par and shoot 67. Considering the heartbreak from the day before, and a nasty sinus infection, Hagestad called it “one of the best rounds, given the circumstances, that I’ve ever played.” Alas, he missed the cut by a lone stroke, a bittersweet end to an emotional two days.
If Hagestad is a grizzled vet at this championship, the wonderfully named Blades Brown (above) is the charming, fresh-faced kid whom the Amateur annually serves up. He’s 16, looks 12 and played like Old Tom Morris on Tuesday, tying the course record at CGC with a 64 that included a holed-out full-swing wedge on the par-4 8th hole, another eagle at the par-5 16th and eight birdies. A quarterfinalist in this year’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, Brown comes from athletic stock: His mom, Rhonda, was the No. 1 pick in the 2008 WNBA expansion draft and became the first player to hit a 3-pointer in league history. At 7 under, Brown tied with Sampson Zheng and Jackson Buchanan for medalist honors in his first U.S. Amateur, breaking Bobby Jones’s (!) record to become the youngest medalist ever. The display was all the more impressive because Brown bogeyed three of his first five holes on Tuesday, although he birdied the other two. Afterward, the kid displayed an admirable attitude. “You just can’t get mad,” Brown said about his run of bogeys. “There are kids who can’t walk and I am out here playing golf, so there is a lot I can be thankful for. It’s a good mindset to have instead of wasting energy.”
Of course, some of the biggest victories don’t come at the top of the leaderboard. Herbie Aikens has won numerous tournaments in the Northeast and was the medalist at his qualifier to storm into this U.S. Amateur. In his first round, at CGC, he had one of those days every golfer dreads, shooting an ignominious 97. Instead of withdrawing and slinking out of town, Aikens showed up for the second round with his head held high. He earned the right to be at amateur golf’s premier event and he grinded his way to a 15-shot improvement, the biggest leap in the field of 312 in two days of stroke play qualifying that was defined by huge momentum swings. Match play begins on Wednesday, and from here on out Cherry Hills will be the sole venue. If the prelude is any indication, expect nonstop theatrics as this U.S. Amateur heats up.
The USGA is a partner to the Fire Pit Collective but does not have editorial oversight.
In 1994, Alan wrote his first cover story for Sports Illustrated as a 21 year-old intern, and in the ensuing quarter-century he typed two dozen more. He is the author of eight books, including best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees; The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger); and Phil. Shipnuck has won 13 first-place awards in the annual Golf Writers Association of America writing contest, breaking the record of Dan Jenkins, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Alan lives in Carmel, Cal.