It turns out that holding a 5-up lead is not as easy as it seems. That’s the margin Stewart Hagestad held over Evan Beck on Thursday after the first 18 holes of the U.S. Mid-Amateur at famed Sleepy Hollow in New York.
There were weather delays all week and rather than continuing with momentum from such a significant advantage, Hagestad had to sleep on the healthy lead.
It didn’t seem to matter early on a chilly Friday as the 32-year-old from Newport Beach, Calif., won two of the first three holes to extend the lead to 7 up. But Beck won four of the next seven holes and, all of a sudden, Hagestad was only 3 up with eight holes remaining. The two men traded holes down the stretch but ultimately it was Hagestad who won 3 and 2 to claim his third U.S. Mid-Amateur title to go with victories in 2016 and 2021.
“Yeah, so it’s funny, I was thinking about this earlier,” Hagestad said. “I was somehow worried but also never worried. I don’t really know how to describe that, other than the fact that I knew if I just kept doing what I was doing, I’d be tough to beat. But at the same time, yeah, it’s tough to not let that creep into your head. But it’s over now, and here we are.”
Hagestad joins the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Bob Jones, Annika Sorenstam and Juli Inkster, among others, who have won the same USGA championship three times.
The victory also gives Hagestad an exemption into the U.S. Open next year at Pinehurst and one to his third Masters, where he was low amateur and tied for 36th place in 2017. His career match-play record at the Mid-Amateur is now a whopping 28-4.
A champion again 🏆🏆🏆
— USGA (@USGA) September 15, 2023
“Just so much joy,” Hagestad said. “I mean, there’s so many thoughts that come into your head, good, bad, otherwise, not just throughout the day but kind of throughout the week. Evan is such a good player. I know that he’s one of the best in the world. He’s got a ton of horsepower, and I saw some of his matches, and I kind of had a feeling it might come down to the two of us.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought this was possible. I’m going to need a minute to kind of decompress, but there’s a lot of emotions going right now.”
For Beck, a 33-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., it was the second time that he came this close to winning a USGA championship, as he lost in the championship match of the 2008 U.S. Junior to Cameron Peck. This time, he wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel Friday and knew it would take a Herculean effort to top the best mid-amateur in the world. The former Wake Forest standout took advantage of Hagestad troubles on the 22nd and 25th holes and then made birdie on the 28th to regain hope, but Hagestad won two of the next four holes to put the match out of reach.
“Yeah, he played perfect yesterday, didn’t miss a shot,” Beck said. “One of the best amateurs of all time. He’s proven that many times. Had a tough task today and just didn’t have enough.”
For Hagestad, ranked No. 16 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, the accomplishments keep piling up. He just finished competing on his fourth consecutive winning U.S. Walker Cup team two weeks ago at the Old Course—he went 2-1 and won both singles matches—and now he’s joined a list of some of the most legendary names in the history of the game.
“That hasn’t really hit me yet,” Hagestad said. “When I got the invitation for the 2022 Masters, I got it and immediately broke down in tears. For the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, the fact that it is where the first USGA event that I played … I’ve played two [U.S.] Amateurs there. If you had told me in 2008 that I’d be playing the U.S. Open, I would have laughed in your face. I need to basically go and decompress and think about that, but I’m going to enjoy this one while I can.”
This article was originally published on golfdigest.com