SIASCONSET, Mass. – It’s a nice year to celebrate anniversaries, especially when golf history is in the making. First, storied Sankaty Head Golf Club is celebrating the centennial of its initial organization—the course opened in 1923. Second, the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship turns 40 this year. Finally, and most importantly, to make further history, the two organizations will meet for the first time from September 25-30.
The venerable island of Nantucket will host 264 optimistic mid-amateur golfers, ages 25 and older, for two days of qualifying. The venues will be Sankaty Head, a private facility, and Miacomet Golf Course, which is the island’s lone 18-hole public course. The low 64 after stroke play qualifying will then advance to match play, hoping to make their own history.
The Mid-Amateur filled a gap when it was established by the U.S. Golf Association in 1981. Players in their 30s and 40s still contended at the U.S. Amateur each summer, but they were hard pressed to keep up with the collegiate stars, who most often dominated. Thus, the USGA hit a sweet spot with the creation of a 25-and-older championship.
“I was thrilled the USGA did that. Amateur golf needed that,” said Jay Sigel, the accomplished Pennsylvania amateur who won three U.S. Mid-Am titles—including one on the back of winning the U.S. Amateur in 1983. No other player can claim that double.
“We needed to have more of our guys have a reason to stay amateur,” said Sigel, now 78. “Of course, not many of them were turning pro back then, like today. The USGA kept me in the game, basically. They made it known that they liked to have mid-amateurs on the Walker Cup team, and that was special. The Mid-Amateur was a realistic goal for me. It was one of the highlights of my year.”
The U.S. Mid-Amateur is open to players who have reached their 25th birthday as of Sept. 12, and whose handicap index does not exceed 3.4. This year’s event drew 5,339 entries, eclipsing the previous record set in 1997. Qualifying has been conducted at 65 sites from Aug. 10-Sept. 2.
The Mid-Amateur champ receives a gold medal, the Robert T. Jones, Jr. Memorial Trophy, entry into the 2022 U.S. Open, (also in Massachusetts at The Country Club in Brookline), an invitation to the 2022 Masters, and exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Mid-Amateurs and the next two U.S. Amateurs.
The 2020 U.S. Mid-Amateur was canceled due to health concerns from Covid-19. Australia’s Lukas Michel won the championship in 2019, becoming the event’s first international winner. He defeated Joseph Deraney, 2 and 1, at Colorado Golf Club. By winning, Michel earned a spot in the 2020 U.S. Open and 2020 Masters.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur champ receives a rare ticket to walk with the game’s greats as a USGA champion. It can be an Everyman’s championship, continuously producing great stories. Matt Parziale knows the unique feeling of what winning the title means. Working as a Brockton, MA, firefighter at the time, Parziale won the Mid-Am in 2017. It was a magical experience, especially with his father, Vic Parziale, on his bag. Parziale, 30 at the time, defeated Josh Nichols, 8 and 6, in the scheduled 36-hole final at Capital City Golf Club’s Crabapple Course outside of Atlanta.
“It’s the biggest thing that I can win,” said Parziale, who gave professional golf a brief run and later was reinstated as an amateur. “It’s what I’ve been hoping to do ever since I got my amateur status back. The way I go about it is just to try to give myself the best opportunity. I was playing well, and everything fell into place. It’s such a hard event to win; there are so many good players.”
The winner certainly deserves that Robert T. Jones Trophy. It can be a grueling week, a test of both mental fortitude and physical talent. After 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying, the two players who reach the championship 36-hole finale will have played six rounds of match play to get there.
Two amateur giants played in the very first Mid-Am final in 1981: Jim Holtgrieve defeated Bob Lewis, 2 up, at Bellerive Country Club, near Holtgrieve’s home in St. Louis. Sigel was the stroke-play medalist that year. There were 1,638 entrants. Sigel set the bar by winning three U.S. Mid-Amateur titles. Fellow Pennsylvanian Nathan Smith (2003, 2009, 2010, 2012) later passed him by capturing four.
Sigel didn’t know Smith very well when Smith broke his record a decade ago, but Smith competes in an event Sigel puts on each year in their home state, and the two have become friends. Sigel has a special appreciation for what Smith accomplished. He knows match play is a fast and fickle format.
“In stroke play, you have 72 holes, you have plenty of time,” Sigel said. “In match play, you don’t. You have three, four, five moments in that match when you have to perform. You don’t always know that they’re there. It’s a real challenge.”
Players will be competing at Sankaty Head (6,652 yards, Par 70) and Miacomet (6,739 yards, Par 70). Sankaty was designed by Emerson Armstrong, with bunker revisions done by Eugene “Skip” Wogan. A.W. Tillinghast made revisions in 2028, and Jim Urbina and C.J. Penrose oversaw a renovation in 2017. Miacomet opened in 2003, designed by Howard Mauer.
Not many competitors will be familiar with the golf courses, because they sit on an island some 30 miles via ferry off Cape Cod. “It’s a special setting, and Sankaty Head is a special golf club,” said Danny Yates, an Atlanta native, who like Jay Sigel, appreciates the allure of highly competitive amateur golf. The 1992 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and 1988 US Amateur runner up, Yates played on two Walker Cup teams and was captain of two others. Yates has played in a number of events at Sankaty Head and said, “This is a marvelous golf course for the competition, and the players will have a memorable experience.”
Matt Parziale, the Brockton native, knows both courses, and looks forward to the upcoming challenge. “I’ve played Sankaty probably a half-dozen times, maybe more,” he said. “I really enjoy the golf course. I think it will be good for everyone around the country to come and see it, and obviously Miacomet is great, too. So, I think we’ll have some fun.”
The fun comes with an added bonus: Over these six days on Nantucket, history will be made, and someone will join the game’s greats as a USGA champion.