There are precious few opportunities for mid-amateurs to represent something bigger than themselves on a national stage, but the re-emergence of one tournament could be vital in amending that.
The U.S. Mid-Am Team Championship, formerly called the Midwest Cup, plans to host competitors from at least 20 states. Teams of four mid-amateurs from each state will compete at the Golf Club at Creekmoor in Raymore, Missouri, just outside Kansas City, from July 29 through August 1. The Midwest Cup previously featured eight states, each with 10 competitors, but the decision was made to expand the offering to create an event with the potential to be a real game-changer in the mid-am community.
It’s a sorely needed concept. The USGA’s popular State Team Championship fell by the wayside in 2017 and, although many states have four-ball competitions or Ryder Cup-style matches between club professionals and amateurs, high-level team competition is a fundamental piece that the mid-am community has struggled to build.
States arrive at their team rosters either from points lists or selection committees. The format harkens back to high school and college competition, where the three best scores from each state’s four players will contribute to that team’s total for a round during the 54-hole championship. There is a concurrent individual portion for both mid-ams and senior ams where World Amateur Golf Ranking points will be earned and exemptions to other events will be at stake.
“Right now, amateur golf is really just an avenue to the professional game and I think it’s time that mid-amateur golf is recognized as the new amateur golf.”
Eric Hjortness, event founder
The idea is that the U.S. Mid-Am Team Championship can grow from this point, eventually including the majority of states and perhaps even other countries. Given time, it could come to represent a pinnacle of mid-amateur golf.
“Mid-amateur golf represents true amateur golf,” said event founder Eric Hjortness. “And yet, if you look across the country, I’ve only come across a few state mid-amateur points lists and most of the state mid-am championships are held in the spring or fall when kids are in school. … Right now, amateur golf is really just an avenue to the professional game and I think it’s time that mid-amateur golf is recognized as the new amateur golf.
“There’s a huge black hole in the opportunities that mid-ams have, and something needs to be done about it so we can get back to the spirit of the game that was represented by Bobby Jones, Francis Ouimet, Chick Evans and others.”
Hjortness, 59, describes himself as a man obsessed with putting on a golf tournament that revolves around the highest quality for the five C’s – course, competition, camaraderie, charity and class. The Wisconsinite has enjoyed a fruitful amateur career that included winning his state’s Amateur Match-Play Championship, while also qualifying for a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur in the early 1990s.
As his mid-amateur career progressed, Hjortness continued to look at possibilities for new events that he went on to spearhead. First it was a team event where the top 12 players from Milwaukee competed against the top 12 from the rest of Wisconsin. Then it was a separate outing where Illinois faced Wisconsin in a mid-am cup. A few years later, six more states were added to that contest and the Midwest Cup gained momentum in a 13-year run from 2006-18 before not being played the past two years.
Hjortness had transitioned the event to the Missouri Golf Association so he could focus on other endeavors. However, after he sold his accounting firm a year ago and became semi-retired, he reached out to the association and once again took a lead role.
“If I was going to do this, I wanted it to be something very different than what it was,” Hjortness said. “This takes 200 hours a year and I wanted it to be worth my time. That’s when I told them the idea that this was going national. We had the format and we already knew the players love it. The mid-amateurs from every state badly need a team event.
“I told everyone last Thanksgiving that if we didn’t go from eight to 20 teams by the end of the year, we’d drop it. And on Dec. 31 our 20th team committed.”
The 22 teams currently planning to participate are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ontario (Canada), South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas (North), Texas (South) and Virginia. More teams could be added depending on interest. Plans call for 40 teams by the 2023 edition.
Other than providing serious team competition between top mid-ams, the tournament will boast other components that make it stand out. There is an “Am-Am” before the event tees off where members of the community pay to play with tournament competitors. More than $35,000 had been raised via sponsors since the Midwest Cup started, providing money for the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship Program, the First Tee and other youth golf initiatives. There also is a skills competition the evening before the first round and a Wives Tribute Dinner that many of the spouses take part in during the tournament.
The format harkens back to high school and college competition, where the three best scores from each state’s four players will contribute to that team’s total for a round during the 54-hole championship.
Andy Jacobson, captain of the team from Minnesota, has been a key organizer in support of Hjortness.
“I’ve always described this tournament as unique, I think that is a perfect word,” Jacobson said. “It’s very competitive with high quality golfers, but it’s a very social tournament, too. We all want to beat each other and represent our state well, but we are also all friends.”
Kit Grove, captain of the Kansas team and a former head coach for the University of Kansas men’s golf team, seconds that thought.
“It kind of feels like I’m back in college golf in a way,” Grove said. “You develop some really close friendships and everyone gets along pretty well. Normally you are driving to the course thinking about beating them, so the whole event is a totally different vibe. Would you want to play every event like that? Probably not, but it’s a nice change of pace.”
When Hjortness is asked why he and his team are taking on the challenge of putting together a national event, one phrase stands out: “Everybody thought that somebody was going to do it but nobody did what anybody could have done.”
In other words, waiting would be futile. If anybody could come along and create something that could have a lasting impact on the mid-amateur community, why wouldn’t it be him?
“Amateur golf deserves this, and we hope to be able to make it happen,” Hjortness said.
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TOP: Event founder Eric Hjortness