GLENVIEW, ILLINOIS | The Stewart Hagestad era of elite amateur performance by a mid-amateur is likely drawing to a close. And as it does, questions arise about the future of mid-amateur participation on the U.S. Walker Cup team.
In 2016, Hagestad shocked the leading mid-amateur of the day, Scott Harvey, to claim the U.S. Mid-Amateur title. That led to the Southern Californian’s first Walker Cup berth, played in 2017 at Los Angeles Country Club, where he was a member. Hagestad won one of his two singles matches as the U.S. team coasted to a 19-7 victory against Great Britain and Ireland.
The Mid-Amateur title earned Hagestad a spot in the 2017 Masters, which is where he achieved national recognition as the first mid-amateur to make the 36-hole cut. He won low-amateur honors that year.
Along the way, Hagestad played in four U.S Opens, making the cut in 2022 at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. He advanced to match play at the U.S. Amateur four times, twice reaching the quarterfinals. He recorded his second Mid-Am title in 2021, and made his second Masters appearance in 2022. He has been in the top 20 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking for nearly 100 weeks, dating to August 2021.
It has been a most impressive run.
The question for future Walker Cup teams: What becomes of mid-amateur participation in the post-Hagestad era? There simply aren’t obvious candidates at the moment.
There was a day when Walker Cup teams featured multiple mid-amateurs, players 25 and older. The trend persisted until the early 2000s. Over time, such participation declined as those players aged out and were replaced almost entirely by elite collegians. There was a window with the 2013 and 2015 teams, which had an unofficial goal of including two mid-amateurs named to the teams. Players such as Mike McCoy, Nathan Smith, Todd White and Scott Harvey invested what it took to make the team, and all made at least one Walker Cup appearance.
As Harvey stepped away from elite competition in 2018, only Hagestad was left standing. No other serious mid-amateur contender has emerged. Evan Beck gave it his all this summer, playing in most of the seven Elite Amateur Golf Series events. However, his WAGR ranking is No. 63, which will not merit serious consideration in a Walker Cup year.
The fact is that there is a price to be paid to earn a Walker Cup berth, and candidates have to be willing to pay it.
A few former professionals, such as Charles Warren, Bobby Wyatt and Drew Kittleson, have been reinstated lately and theoretically could begin to invest the time and effort required to earn a Walker Cup berth. However, there is scant evidence so far they plan to do so.
The fact is that there is a price to be paid to earn a Walker Cup berth, and candidates have to be willing to pay it. A player has to balance work/life issues to be able to play elite amateur events. He has to have the financial resources to travel to events, and he has to find the time to practice and prepare. McCoy and his peers were willing to pay that price, as was Hagestad, who told me last week, “I can’t tell you how many weddings I have missed over the years.”
Hagestad, 32, has gone to work for a high-powered financial-services firm in New York. His career must take precedence for the foreseeable future, and practicing for and playing in Elite Amateur Golf Series events is going to be a challenge.
Hagestad refuses to go quietly into the night. Proving that he is still an elite player, he advanced last week out of stroke-play qualifying to the match-play round of 16 in the Western Amateur at North Shore Country Club for the first time. While he acknowledges this could be his last Walker Cup run, he refuses to accept it as a certainty.
“I am a competitor. That’s who I am,” he told me at North Shore.
He also left open the possibility of a deep run in the U.S. Amateur or a made cut at the U.S. Open in a Walker Cup year, which would keep his name in front of Walker Cup selectors.
Barring that, we may have seen the last of Hagestad as a regular elite mid-amateur after this summer. He will head to Cherry Hills near Denver next week for the U.S. Amateur and his 28th USGA appearance. Then, Hagestad is likely bound for St. Andrews to play for captain Mike McCoy in his fourth Walker Cup match. Dozens of American Walker Cup alumni will be there to cheer the U.S. squad, and no doubt the future of mid-amateurs in the Walker Cup will be a topic of discussion.
There is no easy answer.
Top: Stewart Hagestad, competing in the 2021 Walker Cup, likely will win a spot on this year's U.S. team.
chris keane, usga