McCaffrey, Smith highlight Mid-Am quarters

Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith

RICHMOND, Texas - On the eve of this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Shadow Hawk Golf Club, Mike McCaffrey wasn’t sure he was even going to be able to tee it up in his first-ever USGA event.

The 41-year-old account executive at the Maxim Group for nearby League City, Texas, came down with some sort of bug, felt weak and couldn’t keep anything down.

But a determined McCaffrey went out last Saturday, shot a 4-under 68 at Shadow Hawk, followed with another 68 at The Houstonian, and his 8-under 136 enabled him to claim the stroke-play qualifying medal by three strokes.

Still not feeling all that great, McCaffrey appeared as though he might be exiting the competition in the first round of match play. He was 3 down to Chad Bolt after 10 holes and 2 down with three to play. But he charged back and won the match on the 20th hole.

Obviously, he was beginning to feel much better Tuesday as he breezed through his next two matches to advance into Wednesday’s quarterfinal round.

McCaffrey, who regained his amateur status in February after about a 10-year pro career of playing mostly mini-tour events, knocked off Chris Congdon Tuesday morning, 3 and 2, then came back and cruised past Anthony Barrera, 7 and 6, in the round of 16.

“I’ll take that round (afternoon) of golf any day,” McCaffrey said. “I didn’t make too many really long putts, just played steady. It feels really good to go out and get it done and not let someone hand it to you.

“Right now, I’m going to kick back and relax a while and then have a nice dinner,” said the father of five. “I’m feeling better and looking forward to actually enjoying a good meal.”

McCaffrey will face 1996 U.S. Mid-Am runner-up Randall Lewis, a 1-up winner over Scott Harvey in Wednesday morning’s first quarterfinal match. Harvey was a semifinalist last year.

Meanwhile, Nathan Smith continued his march toward U.S. Mid-Amateur history when he downed Nicholas Biesecker, 2 and 1. Trying to become the first player to win this championship four times and three in a row, Smith will face Mike Stamberger, a 2-and-1 winner over Paul Simson.

Simson, too, was bidding for a spot in the U.S. Mid-Amateur record book. At 60, the North Carolina golfing legend was hoping to become the oldest champion, besting George Zahringer, who was 49 when he captured the title in 2002.

Now it will be up to Lewis who, at 54, can gain that distinction as oldest champion.

The other two quarterfinal matches will pit John Engler, who defeated Mike McCoy, 5 and 4, against Michael Muehr, a 3-and-2 winner over Kris Mikkelsen; and Tony Behrstock, who downed Adam Hickman, 2 and 1, against Kenny Cook, a 2-and-1 victor over Matthew Smith.

Behrstock was the No. 62 seed from stroke-play qualifying, being the first survivor of a 20-man playoff for the final three match-play spots.

Smith appeared to be headed toward another lopsided win as he had in the morning when he beat Billy Jackson, 5 and 4. He won five consecutive holes from Nos. 3-7 to go 5 up. But Biesecker charged back and won holes 10, 11 and 12 to close the gap. Smith got it back to 3 up by winning 13 and then hung on for win.

“I played some the best golf I’ve ever played in my life for probably 27 holes,” said Smith, who has won a record 15 consecutive U.S. Mid-Am matches. “I was swinging great, putting well, and everything was just clicking.

“This afternoon, I managed to get up early and hung on,” he said. “Nick played great on the back side, so I was fortunate to have that cushion. It’s hard to believe I’m back in this position again. I’ll just try to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and see what happens.”

This is the furthest Engler has advanced in a USGA event. After losing the first hole against McCoy, Engler took control.

He won No. 5 to the square the match, then won Nos. 6, 7 and 8 to go 3 up. He went 4 up at 10, but McCoy won 12 to get it back to 3 up. At the 266-yard, par-4 13th, Engler hit 3-wood to 10 feet and two-putted for birdie to win the hole and put things out of reach.

“I really played solid today - all this week in fact,” Engler said. “I’m hitting a lot of fairways and greens and making putts. That’s always a good thing.”

Engler continues to nurse his right ankle, which he severely injured in an 2003 auto accident. While playing golf doesn’t really cause pain or discomfort, walking at times does. So, he approaches these double-round days with caution.

“I’ll go back to my room, prop up my foot, ice it down, and when I come out tomorrow morning I’ll tell you how it’s doing,” Engler said. “So far, it’s holding up well. Hopefully, that will continue to be the case.”

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