LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Before his recent move to Birmingham, Mich., near Detroit, Michael Castleforte lived in the Chicago area for some five years. However, while in Chicagoland, he had never played Conway Farms Golf Club or the Knollwood Club, the two par-71 courses being used for stroke play at this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
He got his first taste at both clubs during practice rounds and then made the most of that short experience.
Castleforte, 30, shot a 2-under 69 at Conway Farms on Saturday and shares the first-round lead with John Ehrogtt and Matthew Mattare, both of whom opened at Knollwood, and John Rudolph, who played Conway.
Another shot back at 1-under 70 are Todd White, Tom Hart and Colby Segal. Six players were tied at even-par 71, including 55-year-old Doug Hanzel, who was low amateur earlier this year at the U.S. Senior Open.
Each player in the starting field of 264 plays one stroke-play round at Conway Farms and one at Knollwood. The field is then cut to the low 64 scorers, who will advance to match play which begins Monday. The 36-hole championship match for those 25 years and older is set for Thursday. All match play takes place at Conway Farms.
Castleforte, a 2004 Duke graduate and 2007 Columbia Law alumnus, played in the morning wave, starting on the 10th hole. He birdied No. 11, bogeyed 17 and birdied 18 to turn at 1 under. Then he closed with a flurry, making birdies at Nos. 8 and 9.
“Too many times in mid-am golf, it goes the other way in the end because we only play a couple of tournaments a year,” said Castlefore, the general counsel and head of business development at United Shore Financial Services. “It was nice to take it (finish) in the right direction.”
Though he hadn’t played either course before this week, Castleforte is well aware of the quality of both layouts.
“In terms of USGA events, I can’t remember one where they had two great courses like this,” said Castleforte, who played in the 2008 and ’11 U.S. Mid-Amateurs and also in the 2000, ’03 and ’04 U.S. Amateurs. “The greens are tough, but we were fortunate. The wind kind of laid down in the morning. You had nine holes or so where you could really go after (the pins).”
Defending champion Randal Lewis got off to a shaky start with a 6-over 77 at Conway Farms, and 2011 runner-up Kenny Cook shot 2-over 73 on the same course.
Among other past U.S. Mid-Am champs: two-time winner Tim Jackson shot 72, George Zahringer and three-time winner Nathan Smith had 73s, Austin Eaton III came in at 77, Kevin Marsh at 78 and Dave Womack at 82.
Paul Simson, 61, who earlier this summer was inducted into the Southern Golf Association Hall of Fame, posted a 2-over 73. Chip Lutz, who won the British Senior and Canadian Senior Amateurs this year, shot 75.
Mason Casper, the grandson of two-time U.S. Open champion Billy Casper, had a 72, while Gary Nicklaus, son of eight-time USGA champion Jack Nicklaus, struggled with a 10-over 81.