SCARBOROUGH, NEW YORK | Separated by nine days and 3,200 miles, a pair of unforgettable moments happened between Mike and Nate McCoy.
The first took place at the Walker Cup three Sundays ago at St. Andrews, each of the Old Course’s many slopes illuminated by the golden sun sinking over the Rusacks Hotel where the American team would soon be swigging champagne.
Mike McCoy had just captained his talented side to complete a historic comeback at the most hallowed of venues. He played on the 2015 squad – that was the last time the U.S. lost to Great Britain and Ireland’s amateurs, and it did so in embarrassing fashion at Royal Liverpool – putting a bit of extra motivation into this year’s Walker Cup. The Americans went down 7½-4½ after day one and the captain, who was struggling with an illness during and after the match, looked worn down and dejected. Unlike most captains throughout the match’s history, McCoy might get only one kick at the can as captain. Nathan Smith is set to lead the team at Cypress Point in 2025.
Each of those variables made it all the more satisfying when the Americans stormed back to win, 14½-11½, in capturing their fourth consecutive Walker Cup.
Mike’s son, Nate, had traveled to Scotland with a convoy of family, including his brother, Danny, and Mike’s wife, Tana. It had taken his group about 58 hours to get there from Iowa after a debacle at London’s Heathrow Airport, finally putting head to pillow at 2 a.m. Wednesday after having left Sunday evening. Five hours after he went to bed, Nate was standing on the first tee of the Old Course in a pair of tennis shoes, playing with his dad’s clubs and Walker Cup bag – his luggage hadn’t made it, but he couldn’t pass up a chance to play at St. Andrews.
Nate played the role of spectator throughout the week, mostly keeping out of the team room and soaking in the experience of being a small part of the match.
“I really just watched my dad most of the time just because I want to see his expressions and see his emotions come out,” Nate said.
And by the time that sun was setting and the Americans had pulled off the improbable, the emotions finally flowed without any restraint. Mike pulled his son inside the ropes behind No. 17 green, and the two started to drive together toward the 18th green.
“I just looked in his eyes and could see the tears just swelling up,” Nate said of that moment. “We didn't say a single word. I put my arm around him for a little bit.”
Nothing more needed to be said. It was among the most powerful moments in a father-son relationship that has been forged by the fires of golf over many years. From Nate caddying for Mike at the 2014 Masters; to Mike caddying for Nate at PGA Tour Canada Q-School; to the two playing together over hundreds of rounds of competitive and non-competitive golf; this moment went right to the top.
“It’s pretty special,” Mike said, the emotion bubbling to the surface. “This is what it’s all about.”
Just that alone is something to remember forever. Then nine days later, another incredible moment occurred.
The McCoys scrambled back across the Atlantic to compete together in the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Sleepy Hollow Country Club, the crown jewel event of mid-am golf. It started just six days after the Walker Cup ended, the cigar smoke barely dissipating by the time golf balls flew in New York.
"We’ve had just such a good run of things in golf. And really, that’s what’s kept us so close.”
Nate McCoy, on his relationship with his father, Mike
Mike won the U.S. Mid-Am in 2013 and received a 10-year exemption for his victory. Still among the top senior amateurs in the game – Mike won the Senior British Amateur a year ago and was runner-up in the Coleman Senior earlier this year – going up against younger mid-ams naturally has become more difficult in recent years.
It was even harder this year for the soon-to-be 61-year-old. He gave it a go but had to withdraw as fatigue and illness proved to be too much. Nobody could blame him for that.
But while Mike bowed out, Nate came to play. The supporting roles reversed once again.
Nate’s tournament began with a major assist from his dad. In practice, he was struggling mightily with his driver and couldn’t find a fairway. That was going to be a problem at Sleepy Hollow, a traditional Northeast course with menacing rough.
Mike arrived at the tournament on Friday so that he could have more time to rest, but that allowed him to bring Nate a few extra drivers to test and see whether he could correct his issues before the event began. One of those drivers worked splendidly, and Nate was off to a fast start with a 2-under 69 on Saturday – with his cousin, Ben McCoy, on the bag – to get near the top of the leaderboard in stroke-play qualifying.
With his withdrawal after round one, Mike was able to caddie for Nate in round two. But that also proved to be too much.
“He barely made it,” Nate said. “I had to take the bag from him a couple of times, because he was struggling. After that, he was kind of shot.”
But while Nate was on to caddie No. 3 for match play – he had a local Sleepy Hollow looper on the bag – Mike was able to walk the fairways and follow his son. The goal was important: for Nate to win his first match in a USGA championship.
It was early Tuesday afternoon when Nate, the director of handicapping/course rating for the Iowa Golf Association, came to the 18th hole tied with opponent Charles Soule. Soule had gone 2 up through nine holes, but McCoy made three birdies in a four-hole stretch to even the match.
Soule shortsided himself left of the green and couldn’t save par. McCoy hit his approach to 10 feet and ran his first putt by a few feet, making for a nervous comebacker that found the cup.
There it was. Mike was waiting off the 18th green to embrace Nate, his smile telling the entire story.
“The more I think about it, the more emotional I get about it,” the younger McCoy said afterwards. “I still remember going to my first USGA [championship] with him in 2002 at Oakland Hills where I was a caddie and I was 12 or 13 years old. It was the coolest experience I had ever had up to that point in my life. And I still remember it like it was yesterday.
“I just feel like I always look back to that day, because there's been a ton that’s happened in our lives since then. We’ve had just such a good run of things in golf. And really, that’s what’s kept us so close.”
Later that afternoon, Mike was following Nate in his round-of-32 match and whispering “come on, Nate” under his breath – as if what was at stake was just as big as the Walker Cup a week earlier.
McCoy won that match against Andy Sajevic, another Midwestern player with a close father-son relationship built through competitive golf. That match also arrived at the 18th tied before McCoy won the closing hole.
The magic ran out in the round of 16 when McCoy lost, 3 and 1, to eventual champion Stewart Hagestad, a Walker Cupper. But the magic had really lasted two weeks as Nate and Mike were there for fulfilling golf accomplishments they will each talk about for the rest of their lives.
A few days after the two of them got back to Iowa, Mike was still having health issues and had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night. He was instructed to rest, but he got up the next day and went to hit balls. He couldn’t help himself.
“He just loves golf more than anyone I know,” Nate said.
It’s hard to blame him. Golf has taken Mike McCoy all over the world, and it has fostered a close relationship with his son.
What happened across two weeks in September is living proof.
Top: Less than two weeks after leading the U.S. Walker Cup team to victory in Scotland, Mike McCoy (left) returned to America and was caddying for his son, Nate, in the second round of the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
Kathryn Riley, USGA