Mid-Am Championships encourage golfers to extend competitive careers

The two U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships, one for men and the other for women, make up one of amateur golf’s great success stories. The men’s event has been played for 22 years, the women’s for 16, and together they have encouraged many golfers to extend their competitive careers.

Need proof of this, or the fact that golf is the game of a lifetime?

Although entrants in either Mid-Amateur Championship must be at least 25 years old, three of this year’s four finalists (both of the men and one of the women) passed that plateau long ago and were in their 40s. The youngest finalist was 36-year-old Kathy Hartwiger of Birmingham, Ala., who orchestrated an unexpected 2-up victory Sept. 26 over three-time Women’s Mid-Am champion Ellen Port, 41, of St. Louis.

The women’s event was played at Eugene Country Club, a wonderful course originally designed by H. Chandler Egan in 1925. More than 40 years later, when Robert Trent Jones was hired to renovate the course, he reversed the layout – the 18th green became the first tee, and so forth. Eugene CC is ranked No. 21 among Golfweek’s America’s Best Modern Courses.

The course suited Hartwiger. In one year, she changed virtually her entire game, and it showed. She credited Michele Drinkard, a teaching pro at Hoover Country Club in Birmingham, as the mastermind of this transformation. It came after the 2001 Mid-Amateur, in which Hartwiger was defeated in the third round of match play (the champion must win six 18-hole matches).

“If somebody had told me last year at this time that I would be standing here, I pretty much would have fallen on the floor, laughing,” Hartwiger said at the victory ceremony. “I knew I had to tear down and rebuild my game. That’s what Michele did for me.”

One thing Hartwiger didn’t change, however, was her putting stroke, which is what made her a giant killer. In just one 18-hole final, her identity went from Ms. Undeniable Underdog to Ms. Potent Putter.

How potent? In order, Hartwiger sank putts from these distances: 8, 9, 18, 12, 30, 22, 7, 6 and 13 feet. Although she was 1 down after seven holes, Hartwiger won the next four holes to go 3 up. She one-putted all four of those greens – two for birdies and two for pars.

Her putter was a Ray Cook M1-X mallet. Both players used Callaway irons and fairway woods. Hartwiger had an Orlimar hipTi driver and Port a Callaway VFT Pro Series driver.

“She deserved to win,” Port said. “She kept the ball in the fairway, and she made putts. That’s all it took.”

Port was bidding to join an elite group of 12 golfers who had amassed four victories in the same U.S. Golf Association national championship. That group includes Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones, Jerome Travers, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls, Glenna Collett Vare, JoAnne Carner, Carolyn Cudone, Dorothy Porter and Anne Sander. At the 2002 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, which begins Oct. 5, Carol Semple Thompson also will attempt to join the four-win club with a victory.

Hartwiger has a strong USGA connection: Her husband, Chris, is the USGA agronomist for the southeast region. They have two children under age 3. Port is a high school physical education instructor in St. Louis, and she, too, is the mother of two preschoolers.

Apart from the battle of these birdie-making moms, several other veteran golfers played very well. Taffy Brower, 57, was one of the co-medalists. Sander, 65, qualified for match play. Toni Wiesner, 55, and Sally Krueger, 44, made the quarterfinals.

This, in essence, is what the Mid-Amateur is all about.

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