When you hear of a mid-amateur with two kids and a list of home-improvement projects, the assumption is that he must have limited opportunities to be around golf.
Nate McCoy has the reverse perspective. Not only has the 31-year-old son of former Walker Cupper and U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Mike McCoy had a tremendous year as a competitor – with wins in the Iowa Masters and Carroll Amateur, a runner-up in the Iowa Amateur and a top-5 finish in the Iowa Open – he also has been busy working a full season of events as the director of handicapping and course rating for the Iowa Golf Association.
For tournaments like the Iowa Amateur or Iowa Match Play, McCoy has even competed and gone right back to work as one of the officials administering play.
“You’re there all day and you don’t really get a break from it, but it’s a lot better than the opposite of not getting to play,” McCoy said. “It’s been a fun summer. It’s a lot of golf, either playing or working.”
Just a few short years ago, McCoy lived a much different life.
He enjoyed an outstanding college career for the Iowa State Cyclones, setting the school record for scoring average his senior year in 2011-12 and being named the school’s male athlete of the year. A first-team All-Big 12 selection who collected eight top-10 finishes that season, McCoy had also won the 2011 Dogwood Invitational ahead of future PGA Tour players Brooks Koepka, Bobby Wyatt and Luke Guthrie.
Deservedly, McCoy gave professional golf a shot. He made 37 starts on PGA Tour Canada – later renamed the Mackenzie Tour – winning once in 2014 and ranking seventh on the money list that summer. Yet after four seasons of grinding up north and having to spend five-week stretches away from his growing family, McCoy had seen enough. His run as a professional golfer ended in 2016 when he failed to make it past the second stage of Q-School for the Web.com Tour, now known as Korn Ferry Tour. McCoy was reinstated as an amateur in late 2018, giving him the opportunity to compete like his father has done for so many years.
“I have no regrets about playing professionally, but I do feel like the best part of amateur golf is that I’m still able to compete at a high level, but I get to be home,” McCoy said. “It’s the best of two worlds for me.”
Despite not getting to play as much as he used to, McCoy has shown his ability as an amateur. He lost in a playoff to reach match play in the 2019 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst, and won both the Iowa Masters and Carroll Amateur twice. The Iowa Masters has particular significance because he won it at Iowa State’s Veenker Memorial Golf Course, a layout that taught McCoy a lot about how to play the game.
With all of that, he is up to No. 213 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. That makes McCoy the No. 12 mid-amateur in the world, automatically qualifying him for next month’s U.S. Mid-Am at Sankaty Head Golf Club in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he will play in the same event with his dad. The two played in their first U.S. Amateur together in 2019 and this will be their first U.S. Mid-Am together.
“The pressure is still there when I’m playing, but it kind of leaves when I finish a round. Once I’m done playing, I’m kind of able to leave it out there now and focus on other things.”
It figures to be a brief window of time where they are both competing in events of this caliber, given that the elder McCoy is fast approaching 60 years old. Mike has had another strong year in his legendary career – winning the George C. Thomas Senior and the Iowa Senior Amateur while also making the cut in the U.S. Senior Open – but the longtime stalwart has also missed match play in his previous four Mid-Ams. There will only be so many others. The elder McCoy is on the tail end of a 10-year exemption into the Mid-Am that came with his 2013 win.
It’s a moment of appreciation for everything golf has given the McCoy family. And along the way, they’ve both taught each other about the game.
“We’re thrilled for the opportunity at the Mid-Am,” Mike McCoy said. “You know, when Nate became a mid-am, I probably learned just as much from him as he learned from me. He’s disciplined and structured with his practice, setting goals with what he wants to accomplish. I’ve always been in the habit of just going and hitting balls, so I’ve been trying to take a little bit of that discipline into my own game.”
And on the other side, dad has imparted a lot of wisdom to son. The main takeaway is that life as a mid-am means you rarely come into a tournament fully prepared. You have to do the best with what you have.
“Coming into amateur golf after playing professionally, I felt like I had to practice every day like I was as a pro to kind of maintain my game,” Nate McCoy said. “I guess I learned after a couple of years that you just have to figure it out somehow, whether it’s getting out of work early a couple of days per week to get an extra range session in or something like that. A few hours a week of practice is about all I can get in now.
“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, having high expectations to win and to continue to play like I was as a pro. The pressure is still there when I’m playing, but it kind of leaves when I finish a round. Once I’m done playing, I’m kind of able to leave it out there now and focus on other things.”
While McCoy learns the ropes of being a mid-am, he is doing so in the unique circumstance of working a full schedule of tournaments. There are 25 Iowa Golf Association championships, most of them multi-day, and seven USGA qualifiers on the docket. McCoy is the lead man in charge for several of them, including the Iowa Junior Amateur, but he is on site for virtually all of the events. It’s a lot of answering questions from players, being prepared for inevitable logistics challenges like inclement weather and ironing out the countless fine details of tournament operations. He jokes that he is like a club pro now, excited for the break that winter will bring. The Iowa golf season is from May to September with occasional opportunities in April and October, so tournament golf is packed into a tight time frame.
His work and family life – which includes having just moved into a new house – may mean he only gets to play a select schedule of mostly local amateur events, but McCoy is quick to point out that Iowa is a fortunate place to be a mid-am. Not only does it boast some of the top mid-ams and senior ams in the country, but the Iowa Golf Association hosts a solid amount of three-day tournaments that count towards the WAGR. Many states only have their state amateur and state mid-amateur count towards the rankings.
McCoy has enjoyed the advantages of growing up with a dad who is a quintessential mid-am in a state that appreciates their amateur golf, but he’s taken that and made it his own.
That’s the beauty of mid-am golf, where family, work and golf have to properly balance. Nate McCoy is early on in that process after leaving professional golf, but it’s coming together like it was the plan all along.
Top: Nate and Mike McCoy