Former Mid-Amateur Champions Enjoy Rare Grouping
By David Shefter
River Hills, Wis. – Formal introductions were not necessary for the 8 a.m. starting time on the 10th tee at Brown Deer Park Saturday for the first round of stroke play at the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
All three golfers were quite familiar with each other. In fact, each has their name inscribed one after another on the Bob Jones Memorial Trophy that goes to the Mid-Amateur champion.
Thanks to a little USGA tweaking, Austin Eaton III, Kevin Marsh and Dave Womack – champions from 2004 to 2006, respectively – were grouped together for the first two rounds of the championship, which is being conducted at the municipally-owned Brown Deer Park and Milwaukee Country Club (site for match play).
Unlike the U.S. Open or U.S. Women’s Open, where there is a method to the madness of grouping competitors, no such manipulating is done at USGA amateur championships, where a computer spits out the threesomes for the first two days.
So the former champions were pleasantly surprised when they discovered that Allison Jarrett, the USGA’s director of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, put them together for stroke play.
“I wanted to add a little flair to the championship,” said Jarrett. “With [defending champion] Trip [Kuehne] not playing, I thought it would be cool to put the last three playing champions together.”
Kuehne, who retired from competitive golf after his Masters appearance in April, was at Milwaukee C.C. Thursday for the players’ reception, but immediately returned to Dallas to watch his son’s first youth football game.
Too bad he couldn’t stick around to act as the honorary public-address announcer. That role instead went to former Executive Committee member Loren Singletary of Houston, a member of the Mid-Amateur Championship Committee.
“This is great,” he told the three competitors prior to their round. “You all have a great time and play well.”
Which prompted a jovial response from Eaton: “How far to the beer fridge? That’s four hours from now.”
Considering the players’ mercurial on-course performances Saturday, all three would have preferred an early trip to the 19th hole. A total of four birdies were recorded – three of which came on the final three holes – among the former champions, with Eaton, 39, of North Sutton, N.H., posting a group-low, 2-over-par 72 on the 6,728-yard tree-lined layout.
Marsh, 35, of Henderson, Nev., needed a birdie at the ninth hole – his last of the day – to card a 75, while the 29-year-old Womack of Mcdonough, Ga., went birdie-less in shooting a 76.
“For as bad as we all played, it was about as enjoyable a round as you can get,” said Marsh. “I was talking with Dave walking up the last hole and said, ‘This is weird. It’s almost like we’re playing a practice round.’ None of us had it.”
Marsh’s effort was a bit baffling considering he’s been on quite a run over the past two months. In July, he won the Southern California Golf Association Amateur and a month later, he advanced to the third round of match play at the U.S. Amateur last month at Pinehurst, the best showing by any mid-amateur (25 and over).
Things looked promising for the Pepperdine alum at the outset of Saturday’s round when he holed a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 10 and nearly made another at the par-3 11th. But the rest of his round was a series of scrambling and chasing wayward shots. He even had a good laugh when he topped a shot about 125 yards up the fairway with a 3-wood at the par-5 18th (ninth of the round) that led to a bogey.
When his tee shot at the par-3 seventh found a greenside bunker he blurted out, “A missed green, what a surprise!” He bogeyed the hole.
Then at the short ninth, Marsh knocked a wedge approach to 4 feet. After the birdie putt dropped, the commercial real estate entrepreneur playfully raised both hands – palms up – as a sign of resignation.
“I just hit the ball terrible,” said Marsh, who defeated Carlton Forrester, 10 and 9, in the 2005 final at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn. “I can’t remember hitting it that bad in a long time. In the last two months, I’ve played a lot. Maybe I just wasn’t mentally ready.
“The last time I had a bad first round [at the Mid-Amateur] I won it.”
Three years ago, Marsh carded a first-round 78 at The Honors Course and rallied with a 64 at Black Creek, the second stroke-play venue.
Meanwhile, Eaton, who beat Josh Dennis at Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, Ga., has struggled with consistency all season. Two young boys – 2 years and 10 months – have occupied a lot of his time, as has his home-building business, which has been a little slow due to the weak economy. Last month, he posted rounds of 79-80 at the U.S. Amateur to miss the cut by 14 strokes.
But the Mid-Amateur always piques his interest and focus because he doesn’t have to compete against hotshot juniors and college players, and he’s around golfers of similar backgrounds. Wisconsin also has a special place in Eaton’s heart as his grandmother, Virginia Gittins, grew up near Green Bay and won the 1921 Wisconsin Women’s Amateur.
When he registered on Wednesday and discovered his pairing, Eaton became even more excited.
“I was thrilled,” said Eaton, who has his younger brother, Ben, serving as his caddie. “I really like both guys. I knew we were going to have fun. I certainly figured that we’d play better than we did.”
While Eaton didn’t register a birdie until his 16th hole of the round, he did manage to avoid any bad mistakes. Back-to-back birdies at seven and eight – he made a 15-footer from the fringe at the par-3 seventh – got him back to even par for the round. But at the short ninth, his drive found trees to the left of the fairway and he finished with a disappointing double-bogey 6.
Womack, an insurance agent, had several opportunities for birdies, but either struggled with the line or speed. At the eighth, his 75-footer for birdie hit the back of the hole and popped out.
“Nice aim Dave,” said Eaton.
“Everybody kept their heads on straight,” added Eaton. “It was still fun out there. “There’s no sense in being real intense out there when the other two guys are not. It’s fun to joke around a little. You saw us.
“I’m actually very happy the way I held it together until the last hole. If I would have kept the wheels on the cart the last hole, I would have been OK.”
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.