The most coveted prize in amateur golf is not a trophy, as most know. It’s an invitation to play in the Masters. Stewart Hagestad’s remarkable comeback victory in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship earned him one.
He’s obviously thrilled for the opportunity, but it won’t be his first visit to Augusta National, as he noted in the wake of his victory over Scott Harvey in 37 holes at Stonewall in Elverson, Pa.
Hagestad, 25, played college golf at USC, where the athletic director at the time was Pat Haden, a former USC quarterback and an Augusta National member. In Hagestad’s senior year, Haden “takes the team down,” he said The traveling party included a staffer from USC’s NCAA compliance department, “because you’ve got to keep those guys happy,” Hagestad said, and an assistant golf coach, John Wurzer.
They arrived late on a Friday afternoon, had dinner, and made plans to play 36 holes on Saturday, 18 on Sunday and return to Southern California.
On Saturday, Hagestad played with his roommate Sam Smith, then a freshman golfer at USC, Wurzer and Augusta National member Jeff Knox, who has gained a measure of acclaim for being the designated marker in the Masters, playing on weekends when an odd number of players make the cut.
“It’s like heaven,” Hagestad said. “You don't want to touch anything. I was afraid to walk even on the putting green.
“It was a really neat experience, but I was a total deer in the headlights that first round. So we have lunch and the coaches say we've played 18. We have time for nine more and maybe the par-three course.”
On the bonus nine, he played with Haden and shot four-under on the back nine. “And I'm walking off the 18th green, going to play the par three, my athletic director -- I was of age at the time for legal purposes — he’s like, ‘I hope this isn't against compliance, but we’re just going to go with it, can I buy you a beer?’ So I just played Augusta National, shot four-under on the back nine playing with my athletic director my senior year of college and we're going to play the par three.
“I thought, ‘this is the peak, all downhill from here. This is the greatest day of your life.’ And the opportunity to go back and compete in the Masters, I think, outdoes that.”
And one of the first calls he said he would make after his U.S. Mid-Am victory was to set up a practice round at Augusta with friends Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.