Sunday, June 4, 2017

Stewart Hagestad Sets Stage for U.S. Amateur Return at The Riviera Country Club, Aug. 14-20

2017 U.S. Amateur to be Conducted at The Riviera Country Club, Bel-Air Country Club, Aug. 14-20

(LOS ANGELES) - Before the second weekend in April this year, it’s safe to say most casual golf fans didn’t know his name.

But that changed suddenly and dramatically on April 9 in Augusta, Ga., when John Stewart Hagestad won the Silver Cup as low amateur at The Masters. He shot 74-73-74-73 at Augusta National to finish in a tie for 36th place, earning a seat and a nationally televised interview in Butler Cabin alongside newly crowned Masters champion Sergio Garcia.

Hagestad made history by becoming the first U.S. Mid-Amateur champion to make the cut at The Masters via his U.S. Mid-Amateur invitation, then continued his stellar play on the weekend and finished three shots better than Curtis Luck, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion.

All of which explains why Hagestad, who grew up in Newport Beach, Calif. and played college golf at the University of Southern California, is confidently looking forward to his busy tournament schedule this spring and summer. The day after the Masters, he celebrated his 26th birthday as invitations came flooding in from numerous prestigious amateur tournaments around the world.

But Hagestad hopes to be peaking at two particular USGA competitions at the end of the summer in Los Angeles:  the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship, in which he is exempt, and the 46th Walker Cup Match, for which he hopes to be selected to the 10-man USA Team.

The U.S. Amateur will be played Aug. 14-20 at The Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club – two courses Hagestad knows well – and the Walker Cup will be contested at The Los Angeles Country Club, where he is a junior member.

“I’ve accomplished a lot of life goals in the past six months, but I have lot more, obviously,” Hagestad said in an interview a week after the Masters, on a day he did a clinic at New Jersey National Golf Club for the USGA and visited the USGA Museum in Far Hills.

New goals also are the reason he asked for and was granted a leave of absence from his job as a financial analyst in New York.

To help him prepare for and fine-tune his game for the U.S. Amateur and hopefully the Walker Cup, Hagestad has committed to an ambitious schedule: three tournaments in the month of May--the Irish Amateur at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland; the Carey Cup at Galway Bay Resort in Ireland and the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Pinehurst in North Carolina (May 24-31); followed by U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying at Big Canyon Country Club and Newport Beach Country Club (June 5); the British Amateur at Royal St. George’s in England (June 19-24), but only if he doesn’t qualify for the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin; the Pacific Coast Amateur at Chambers Bay in Washington (July 18-21); and the Western Amateur at Skokie Country Club in Illinois (July 31-Aug. 5).

“And then definitely the U.S. Amateur,” Hagestad said. “I love the U.S. Mid-Am; it’s obviously a major, but the U.S. Am to me is on another level, higher on the pedestal, so to say. I think a lot of the guys around the country would echo that.”

A 2013 graduate of USC’s Marshall School of Business, who had his swing changed during his teenage years by the late great coach Jim Flick, Hagestad concedes he also has what he considers unfinished business in the U.S. Amateur. It’s an event he has qualified for seven times but has yet to advance to match play. Merely qualifying for the Amateur is an accomplishment in itself, and he did it every year he tried: in 2008, 2010 and 2011 at Big Canyon, the Newport Beach course on which his father taught him to play; 2012 in Montana, 2013 at Mission Viejo Country Club in Orange County, 2015 in Connecticut and 2016 in West Virginia.

“Last year, to give you an example, my qualifying site in West Virginia (Edgewood Country Club in Sissonville) had 42 players competing for one spot,” he said. “I shot 68-65 to finish 9-under and only won by one shot.”

But it’s even more difficult to advance to weekend match play at the U.S. Amateur, with only the top 64 players out of the original 312 moving on.

“I got close a few times, and I’m bitter about every one of them,” he said, forcing a laugh.

Hagestad remembers finishing one shot out of a playoff for match play because he three-putted the 16th hole at Chambers Bay in 2010. He remembers playing well at Erin Hills in 2011 but falling short of match play because he got the windiest end of the draw. He remembers shooting 69 in the opening round at Cherry Hills in 2012 but struggling in the second round. He remembers finishing one stroke out of a playoff for match play in 2013 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

But freshest in his mind is what happened last summer in the 2016 U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan. He was 4 under through his opening nine holes “but just leaked oil the whole back nine” en route to a still-respectable 69. And after shooting 73 the second day, he found himself in a 23-man tie for the last eight spots in match play.

One of those 23 was Stanford’s Maverick McNealy, then the No. 1 amateur in the world, who lasted five playoff holes before he was eliminated. There were three players left, competing for the final spot, when Hagestad was eliminated on the seventh playoff hole. Denied again from match play – for the seventh time.

“Unfortunately, I hit a lot of good shots but couldn’t capitalize (on his birdie opportunities),” Hagestad said. “There’s a tremendous amount of pressure in a U.S. Amateur playoff, but the most pressure I ever felt on a golf course was Tuesday and Wednesday of Masters week.”

That’s when he played practice rounds with Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Thomas Pieters.

“I was just terrified – indescribably petrified,” he said, laughing again. “Playing in front of 25,000 people that are all simultaneously judging you. Just terrifying.”

But he survived that nerve-wracking experience and said he actually settled down when the Masters began on Thursday, because he “could put the blinders on, get selfish and get into my own space.” That’s when he said he was most comfortable and not even thinking about his 35 family and friends in the gallery or the worldwide audience watching on TV.

And when it was over, when he had clinched the Silver Cup, he said he’ll never forget the “chills” he got from the standing ovation as he walked up the 18th fairway,  from hugging his parents as he walked off the green, from nearly holing out on No. 18 to make the cut on Friday, as well as all of the other Masters week highlights, including lunch with Phil Mickelson and Condoleezza Rice and playing 18 holes with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and his longtime caddie, Carl Jackson.

“There was something that happened every day that I’ll be able to talk about the rest of my life,” Hagestad said.

But first there are more memories to make, preferably in Los Angeles this summer at Riviera, Bel-Air and L.A.C.C.

“Based on everything that has happened recently, I think I’m a lot more comfortable with myself and what happens,” he said.  “I love Riviera; I’m very comfortable out there and at Bel-Air. I’ve played Riviera probably 30 times and Bel-Air probably 15 times.

“I will continue to set goals, and I think it will allow me to play a little more free (in the U.S. Amateur), maybe help me get to match play. You prepare, go about your business the right way, do the best you can.”

And sometimes goals are achieved and dreams do come true, such as Hagestad’s improbable comeback in the final at the 2016 U.S Mid-Amateur final at Stonewall in Elverson, Pa., where he overcame a four-hole deficit with five holes to play against 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and 2015 USA Walker Cup Team member Scott Harvey to win the trophy and a coveted berth in the Masters.

Until that day, the only Masters in his future was a degree in business, but that changed suddenly, along with Hagestad’s life. His original plan was to enter grad school this summer, but he has decided to defer a decision on that for a year so he can take advantage of his growing list of amateur golf opportunities.

Sometimes it’s more fun to hit the fairways than the books – especially after you make a name for yourself.

“Stewart has had a great amateur career,” said Michael R. Yamaki, Corporate Office of The Riviera Country Club.  “He’s quite familiar with our course and we look forward to his return in August.”

Riviera, the site of the 1948 U.S. Open, will host its first U.S. Amateur Championship. Bel-Air, which will serve as the stroke-play co-host course, hosted the 1976 U.S. Amateur, won by Bill Sander.

U.S. Amateur tickets are available online at Tickets are $20 (single-day grounds) and $75 for a weekly pass. Military personnel and students receive free admission with valid ID.

For more information on the Walker Cup Match, visit

No comments: