It hasn't been an Aussie invasion, precisely, maybe more of an intrusion, but those from Down Under have left an indelible mark on USGA championships this summer, including a historic U.S. Mid-Amateur victory from Lukas Michel on Thursday.
Michel, 25, became the first foreign-born player in its 39-year history to win the U.S. Mid-Am, defeating Joseph Deraney of Tupelo, Miss., 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colo.
He also became the second Australian native to win a USGA event this summer, joining U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Gabriela Ruffels. A third Australian, Sue Wooster, was the runner-up in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, and Karl Vilips, 18, reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur.
Deraney was 3 up through 10 holes and again was 3 up through 23 holes, at which point Michel mounted a comeback. He squared the match with a birdie on the 30th hole, then birdied the 33rd and 34th holes, both par 5s, to go 2 up. He closed out the match on the penultimate hole by matching Deraney’s par.
"I played fine," Deraney said. "Yeah, sure, I wish the outcome was different, but I played well. Over 36 holes when a guy doesn't miss a putt inside 10 feet, eventually it was tough to beat him, right? He got I guess a few good breaks, but he played great and putted just probably the best I've ever seen over the course of, what, 35 holes?"
Even Michel, who aspires to play professionally, conceded that Deraney played better tee to green. "It wasn't my best ball-striking day," he said. "It was mediocre. Joe hit the ball way better than me. When you're putting good it always looks like you're sort of coming from behind and making it happen.
It was an upset victory by any measure, save, perhaps, for age. Deraney, 36 and a reinstated amateur, has been on a roll this summer, beginning with his second-place finish in the Carlton Woods Invitational in early May. He missed the cut in the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open (for which he qualified by virtue of his victory in the Canadian Men’s Mid-Amateur the year before), then in succession won the Mississippi State Amateur, the Greenwood Invitational and the Canadian Men’s Mid-Amateur for the second straight year.
Deraney, who starred in college golf at the University of Mississippi, was 217th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, while Michel was 281st.
The victory earns Michel an exemption into the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and likely an invitation to the Masters next year.
“Pros can play their whole life and not get that opportunity,” Michel said. “Nothing gets better than that, I don't think.”