Stewart Hagestad takes nothing for granted, holds on for second U.S. Mid-Amateur title

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Many in his position would’ve already been looking at early-April flights to Augusta, Georgia. Or browsing rentals in Brookline, Massachusetts for next June. Or, at the very least, getting ready to hit the cruise-control button.

But not Stewart Hagestad. For the 30-year-old, decorated mid-amateur, there would be no early celebration.

“I haven’t done a thing,” said Hagestad on Thursday evening after building a 5-up lead on opponent Mark Costanza with 18 holes to play in the championship match of the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Sankaty Head Golf Club in Siasconset, Massachusetts.

“He’s got a ton of firepower,” Hagestad added. “It’s a good start, but it’s not much more than that.”

Hagestad was right. It meant little that he had once built a 7-up advantage through 11 holes, and despite his credentials – a 19-3 match-play record in this event along with a title in 2016 – Hagestad was prepared for a comeback when the final bout resumed on Friday morning. He had led by five shots with one round to play at the Players Amateur a few years back, and lost, and though this wasn’t stroke play, it made no difference; a letdown was still possible.

“The two silos that I tried to prepare myself for were, one, I tried to play today like I was 1 or 2 down, like, hey, we’re going to go out there tomorrow, spitting nails,” Hagestad said. “But then the other side of it was, if that doesn’t happen, Plan B is we need to go out and not give him any holes, make sure that if he goes out and plays great, that’s the only way [he can beat me]. … To be able to take on some of those body blows, I’m very happy about that.”

Costanza, the 32-year-old from New Jersey who earned both state and Met Golf Association player-of-the-year awards last year, came out swinging. Costanza won three of the first six holes on Friday as Hagestad carded a couple of early bogeys, and he then won the 31st hole to claw back to 1 down with five holes to play.

“It’s tough because when you’re digging yourself out of a hole, you want to make birdies, but you know if you falter, you’re going deeper into the hole,” Costanza said. “You’ve got to keep the momentum going. I think I kept the honor the entire day."

Hagestad, though, would hold strong. He had made just one birdie and hadn’t won a hole on the day when he birdied the par-4 16th hole on top of his opponent – "That was one of the biggest putts, if not the biggest putt I’ve made in my life, and he drained it right on top of me," Costanza said. – and a hole later Hagestad birdied again to close out a 2-and-1 victory.

“I’m thrilled, and I’m over the moon, and it’s an absolute dream come true,” said Hagestad, a three-time Walker Cupper who is one USGA start away from 25 championship appearances. He’s always cherished these big events, so naturally, in the moment, he lamented for better words in summing up another notable achievement.

“I could probably give you a much better answer in a week,” he added. “In golf, it’s such a difficult sport to win. Tiger’s winning percentage was what, just shy of 25%? And he’s widely considered one of the most, if not the most, dominant player of all-time. I don’t know what Jack’s was, but I’m sure it was up there, as well. That’s a pretty low percentage, so you really need to embrace the victories, and when you do something special like this, it’s something to really enjoy and be proud of yourself for.”

Highlights: 2021 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship

When Hagestad won his first U.S. Mid-Amateur a half-decade ago, he was, admittedly, naïve. Here he was, not too far removed from college, working on Wall Street and training on an indoor simulator, and yet he had beaten the best mid-amateurs in the world and would soon get to play in major championships. Easy stuff, right?

But it’s telling in that it took until now for him to win this one again. Like Hagestad said, success is difficult, and it requires a lot of hard work. Yes, Hagestad has been fortunate, blessed with the financial means to pursue his golf passions and the opportunity to practice at a place like Los Angeles Country Club, but that never made him exempt from the grind of getting better, or the added pressure of heightened expectations, both internally and from others.

“I don’t think people truly realize just how good Stew is, how much time he puts in and what he’s sacrificing,” said mid-amateur legend Nathan Smith earlier this year.

Hagestad’s sacrifices may seem trivial to those who identify more with the 9-to-5 everyman, but the specialness of what Hagestad has done on the golf course can’t be discounted. Hagestad will be the first one to point out that it’s not exactly an impossible balancing act: Getting his M.B.A. – he’s in Year 2 of his degree program at USC – and working a summer internship with Platinum Equity in Los Angeles while playing a dream summer schedule that includes the George Thomas at LACC (he won it in June) and the Crump Cup at Pine Valley (he was runner-up less than two weeks ago). And he didn’t ask for any sympathy for revealing that he had to miss a mid-term exam on Wednesday, the same day he survived a 23-hole thriller in the Round of 16 before going right back out for his quarterfinal match. (Hagestad’s professor for that class actually emailed him shortly after Friday’s triumph: Congrats! What a nail-biter. Simply awesome!)

As Stewart Hagestad rides into another Walker Cup, he took no shortcuts

But one doesn’t accomplish what Hagestad has in this sport (he's currently 13th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking) without earning it on his own merit. To borrow a quote from PGA Tour player Maverick McNealy: The golf ball doesn't care who you are. And so, when the invites for next year’s Masters Tournament and U.S. Open arrive in the mail, they will be much deserved.

“Both of those tournaments hold very special places in my heart,” said Hagestad, who was low amateur at the 2017 Masters and has played in three U.S. Opens, qualifying for two more in 2018 and ’19. “I’m obviously elated.”

“That’s the reason I was almost in tears on the way to the golf course today, and the reason I teared up after it was done,” added Hagestad, who spoke to the rarity of getting to compete in majors as a 30-year-old amateur; there are few opportunities to qualify for those coveted tournaments – this being one of them – and career amateurs take nothing for granted, revering every chance like it’s their last.

“If you say otherwise, you’re lying.”