McCoy hoping for repeat performance

ASSOCIATED PRESS Mike McCoy is hoping to become just third man to successfully defending his U.S. Mid-Amateur title.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Mike McCoy is hoping to become just third man to successfully defending his U.S. Mid-Amateur title.
Posted: July 31, 2014

BETHLEHEM - Mike McCoy pursued his dream for what must have seemed like forever. It took 36 years, but last year it finally happened for him. So maybe it's really true what they say about life and all those best things.

"It was kind of the culmination of a long journey," he said Monday via speaker phone at Saucon Valley Country Club, where starting Sept. 6 he'll try to defend his U.S. Mid-Amateur title. "I've been trying to win a USGA championship since I tried to qualify for the U.S. junior at 14."

Nine months ago in the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.), McCoy beat Bill Williamson 8-and-6 in the 36-hole final. At 50, he became the second-oldest Mid-Am winner. It earned him a trip to this year's Masters, where he missed the cut. But he was the low amateur earlier this month at the U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla. And soon he'll be headed to the Lehigh Valley to try and become only the third man to repeat at this event, which started in 1981. The native of West Des Moines, Iowa, had made it to the semifinals in 2005 and '08.

"I was pretty determined," said McCoy, whose son Nate caddies for him. "I'd gotten pretty close. I was the medalist [low score in first 2 days of qualifying] at Kiawah [in 2009]. It was the 38th [USGA] championship I'd qualified for. It's hard to win. It's a long week. I got over the hump.

"It's really the frosting on the cake, for a very long amateur career. It's a great feeling, a reward for what's really been a lifetime passion of competing, playing, taking lessons, traveling. Everything to be the best I could be. I'm rather proud of it. I hope it propels me to do even more."

Berwyn's Jay Sigel won this thing every other year from 1983-87, to go with his back-to-back U.S. Amateur crowns in 1982-83. The difference is, you're not eligible for the Mid-Am until you turn 25. The field of 264 will be pared to 64 for the match-play portion. Then you need to beat six opponents to get the trophy. The matches will be held on the Old Course, which hosted the 2009 Women's Open. The final is scheduled for Sept. 11. One of the club's two other courses, Weyhill, is also being used for the first two days of medal (stroke) play.

This is the seventh time the USGA has visited Saucon, starting with the 1951 U.S. Amateur. The Senior Open was held there in 1992 and 2000.

McCoy recently had a chance to play Saucon for the first time. He came away impressed, especially with the Old, where most of the questions will be settled.

"It'll challenge everybody," he said. "The greens were perfect. It'll be a true championship test. Obviously everyone better bring their game. You're not going to be able to scrape it around. You'll have to hit proper shots. I think it's just a matter that the further you go, the more pressure you'll feel to keep winning. It's a draining week. I suspect the creme will rise to the top.

"There's just one good hole after another. There are no weak holes out there. It's one of the best I've ever played. What struck me is there are very long par 4s, and I think very difficult par 3s. You know the rough will be pretty thick by the fall, which will put a premium on driving it in the fairway, particularly on the longer holes. If you're in the rough you're just not going to be able to reach the [green]."

Matt Mattare, the 28-year-old son of Gene, Saucon Valley's longtime director of golf (and now also its general manager), was the medalist last year before losing his opening match. This time he'll have the home advantage.

"I had a nice visit with him at the Porter Cup last week [in Niagara Falls, N.Y.]," McCoy said. "It's always hard to play where expectations are high. But he's a great player. I'm sure he won't be laboring so hard on putts. He knows the break. But by the time you start it's about the same for everyone. They'll all get a good look at it. I can't wait."

After 3 1/2 decades, it's all gravy from here. Sure sounds like he intends to enjoy the heck out of it. And maybe his story can be a lesson to others.

"I think it's a responsibility and a privilege," McCoy acknowledged. "I try to be a good example to my friends. I encourage them to keep working hard on their games, stay committed. I hope that I inspire them . . . trying to raise a family and figure out a way to make time to keep their golf game in shape and stay competitive. In the past my friends encouraged me.

"It's a great honor and a lot of fun to get out there trying to prepare to do your best. That's kind of what I've taken from it. Because you never know."


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On Twitter: @mikekerndn

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