The yr was 1977, and Jay Sigel, having simply gone 3-0 in his Walker Cup debut for a profitable U.S. aspect, was driving from Shinnecock Hills again residence to Philadelphia when he mentioned to his spouse, “We need to do this again.”
He did – eight extra occasions, in reality, whereas changing into the American record-holder for not solely Walker Cup appearances but in addition matches performed, matches gained and factors secured.
“It’s not easy to make a Walker Cup team,” Sigel mentioned, “but it’s reachable and achievable for a good player.”
Stewart Hagestad is that sort of participant and extra. At 30 years previous, the adorned mid-amateur from Newport Beach, California, is a generational expertise, a Tour-caliber participant who by no means actually blinked at turning professional and who nonetheless has each bit the facility, contact and confidence to hold with – and beat – the younger studs of the novice and school video games. Former U.S. Walker Cup captain Spider Miller, an completed novice in his personal proper, known as Hagestad “one of the best amateur golfers who didn’t turn pro in my lifetime.” Miller is 71.
Hagestad nonetheless has a protracted solution to go to catch Sigel, and doing so, realistically, can be someplace between extraordinarily tough and unimaginable. But Sigel final represented his nation within the storied biennial matches in 1993, and there’s no query it’s harder to make the American aspect today, with each two years bringing alongside a refresh of dozens of hotshot future Tour stars.
That’s why, in that context, Hagestad’s third straight Walker Cup look this week at Seminole Golf Club is so extraordinary.
In the early days, legends corresponding to Francis Ouimet, Bobby Jones and Charlie Coe have been Walker Cup regulars. But simply three different gamers this century have competed in three Walker Cups – John Harris, Trip Kuehne and Nathan Smith – and never one among them performed a fourth.
On the eve of his third Cup, Hagestad, who was a part of victories at Los Angeles Country Club in 2017 and Royal Liverpool in 2019, is aware of he’s totally able to bucking that development. He’s at the moment 14th within the World Amateur Golf Ranking and just some months faraway from a quarterfinal run on the U.S. Amateur. Yes, it’s an enormous dedication to chase these nationwide groups, however Hagestad, and people round him, know that if he desires to maintain the pedal down, he’s not slowing any time quickly.
Fittingly, Smith, now 42, sometimes gives this recommendation to his buddy: Enjoy the experience.
“It was a ton of fun and a time in my life where I look back and smile. Stew will do the same,” mentioned Smith, who final teed it up for the American squad in 2013. “How many more teams can he make? That’s up to him. I will say that I don’t know if anybody will be able to do what he’s doing again. It’s just too hard and you have to be too good.
“I don’t think people truly realize just how good Stew is, how much time he puts in and what he’s sacrificing.”
• • •
As an adolescent, Hagestad attended the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and brushed elbows on the junior circuit with main winners Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. But after graduating from USC, Hagestad by no means made the leap to the play-for-pay ranks. His toes firmly planted on the bottom, he remained novice, quickly taking his finance diploma from the Marshall School of Business and transferring to New York City, the place he labored for 2 real-estate funding firms, KTR Partners after which Oak Tree Residential.
At the time, Hagestad’s present USGA championship resume – 21 appearances, together with 11 U.S. Amateurs and three U.S. Opens, plus a U.S. Mid-Amateur victory in 2016 – appeared “unfathomable” for a current school grad starting to chart out a profession on Wall Street. But then he bought the itch. Wanting to compete once more, Hagestad dialed Brian Mahoney, govt director of the Metropolitan Golf Association, and picked his mind about coming into some native occasions.
It wasn’t till after that decision that Mahoney appeared up Hagestad’s handicap: plus-6 (!!!).
“I remember saying to myself, Oh, my goodness,” Mahoney recalled. “He came onto the scene here like gangbusters.”
In his first MGA begin, the 2015 Ike Championship at esteemed Friar’s Head, Hagestad completed runner-up to Wake Forest standout Cameron Young. Later that yr, he gained the Mittelmark Invitational, superior to the semifinals of the Met Amateur and represented the part in his first of two Carry Cups. In 2016, Hagestad was named MGA Player of the Year, as he gained two extra part titles, together with the Met Amateur, and at one level logged 22 straight rounds of par or higher.
“He got on a roll,” mentioned John Doherty, a longtime caddie within the Met space who has looped for Hagestad in a number of massive occasions.
That summer season, Miller, a yr away from his second Walker Cup captaincy, was at Los Angeles Country Club scouting the host course when a member, John McClure, instructed him about this rising star in New York who was again residence visiting and wishing to earn his manner onto Miller’s 10-man roster.
“He walked up to me,” Miller recounted, “and Stew’s this big, tall guy, and he tells me, ‘I’m going to work hard and try to make your team.’ And I look up at him and said, ‘Well, you can start here pretty soon by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur.’”
After that assembly, the red-hot Hagestad trundled into Stonewall Links in Elverson, Pennsylvania, that September and secured himself a spot within the ultimate in opposition to Scott Harvey, the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. He then rallied from 4 down with 5 holes to play and defeated Harvey on the primary playoff gap to grow to be the second youngest winner in championship historical past behind solely Smith, who gained his first of 4 U.S. Mid-Amateur titles in 2003.
The following April, Hagestad made extra historical past, not solely changing into the primary mid-amateur to make the minimize on the Masters for the reason that U.S. Mid-Amateur winner started being invited to Augusta National in 1989 but in addition capturing low-amateur honors, tying for 36th and clipping then world No. 1 Curtis Luck by three photographs.
Those moments of self-validation proved to Hagestad this: Maybe you’re nearly as good as you at all times thought you have been.
“Stew’s afraid of nobody,” Doherty mentioned. “He puts his pants on one leg at a time, and he goes out and competes.”
A couple of months later Hagestad bought via U.S. Open sectional qualifying, his first of three straight years carrying out that feat, after which earned the clinching level in his Walker Cup debut at his residence membership. In current years, he’s climbed as excessive as fourth on the planet rankings. He returned to the semifinals on the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 2018 and ’19. He made it to the Round of 16 on the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble and final summer season at Bandon did one spherical higher, reaching the quarters earlier than falling to eventual champion Tyler Strafaci on the 18th gap. Mixed all through have been top-5 finishes in a number of of the nation’s elite novice occasions, such because the Northeast, Players and Terra Cotta amateurs, the latter of which he completed fifth in simply two weekends in the past.
“He’s following in the footsteps of some of the all-time greats,” Mahoney mentioned. “And I’m talking about shooting for the stars. Guys like Bobby Jones.”
• • •
Mahoney had the distinction of introducing Hagestad earlier than he was offered the Jerry Courville Sr. Award because the MGA’s participant of the yr. As he spoke, Mahoney touched on just a few qualities that made Hagestad nice: class, sportsmanship, tenacity. But one attribute stood out among the many relaxation.
“Hard work is synonymous with Stew,” Mahoney mentioned. “No one has dedicated as much time, energy and passion in my 20-year career as Stew.”
Hagestad didn’t set the world on hearth in school, however then once more not lots of his friends have been balancing enterprise college and a fraternity, both. He performed simply three occasions – all postseason begins as a senior – in his final two years with the Trojans, however simply because his priorities had shifted didn’t imply that Hagestad didn’t observe exhausting. He’s nonetheless by no means did not qualify for a U.S. Amateur, a streak that started in school, and he credit a lot of his present coaching habits to former USC coach Chris Zambri.
After switching coasts, Hagestad arrange a house base in at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, the Long Island membership frequented by titans of business and completed amateurs corresponding to Jimmy Dunne and George Zahringer. He additionally joined Golf & Body NYC, a specialised health club for golfers that additionally had seven hitting bays and some TrackMans. With his boss giving him the autonomy to compete in tournaments whereas nonetheless working, Hagestad actually dug in.
“While my friends were going to bougie brunches, I was practicing,” Hagestad mentioned.
Doherty and Mahoney every introduced up a narrative from Hagestad’s Met Amateur win in 2016, the place he shot 61-64 to win stroke-play medalist honors by 10 photographs. After the record-setting, 36-hole day on the Country Club of Fairfield, Hagestad supplied up one among his trademark traces to Doherty – “It’s a good start” – and headed to the vary after which to the observe inexperienced, the place he struck putt after putt from 15 toes, the identical distance he had three-putted from for the lone bogey in his opening spherical.
“Most people would just go to the bar,” Doherty mentioned. “Stew went and hit an hour’s worth of balls and putted until dark.”
These days, it’s not unusual to search out Hagestad, who moved again to the West Coast just a few months after his U.S. Mid-Amateur win, out at LACC or Big Canyon in Newport Beach grinding into the late night hours. Only now he has to as soon as once more steadiness schoolwork. He began the MBA program at USC final summer season and has a few yr remaining. He estimates he spends about six hours a day between college and different cellphone calls making an attempt to line up post-grad work (and through Walker Cup week, he’ll have two finals and a challenge due). The remainder of his time is usually dedicated to practising, stretching and understanding, in order that he’s able to carry out when the lights activate.
To put together for this weekend’s matches at Seminole, Hagestad teed it up at a membership event at LACC – and gained – earlier than heading to Naples and taking part in effectively. Also, figuring out how bodily demanding Walker Cup weeks might be, he devoted extra time within the health club to his legs.
“My mind doesn’t turn off,” Hagestad mentioned. “But I’ve always been good at setting a goal and putting blinders on. I know what it takes.”
• • •
You’ve put in a lot work and made so many sacrifices to place your self on this place, and also you’ve earned your solution to be right here. Just go do what you’re able to.
That was an excerpt from the impassioned speech that Hagestad gave to his Walker Cup teammates the evening earlier than the Americans’ final-day rally two years in the past at Royal Liverpool. In a staff room crammed principally with twenty-somethings and aspiring professional golfers, the influence of Hagestad’s message was efficient due to the place it got here from.
Chasing Walker Cups isn’t straightforward. To do it yr after yr like Hagestad has is exponentially taxing. Prospective staff members must play plenty of tournaments, particularly throughout the summer season. If you’re not teeing it up in occasions just like the Jones Cup, Sunnehanna Amateur, Northeast Amateur, Western Amateur and particularly the U.S. Amateur, you’ll be able to overlook about representing your nation. Smith calls it the “Johnny Cash Tour.”
“It’s I’ve been everywhere, man, every summer,” Smith mentioned. “I was trying to ride it as long as I could. When I didn’t make that team in 2015, that told me that it was time to quit running around and chasing that. You’re always trying to run it to the end, and then it’s like I can’t do another two years of this. You’re trying to work, trying to move on with your life, and it’s tough; there’s a dedication there where you’re really putting your life on hold.”
Miller understands the sacrifice, too. A husband and father of 5, he certified for his first and solely Walker Cup as a participant in 1999, at age 49, after which shut it right down to deal with household and his beer-distribution enterprise.
“You’re either all-in or you’re all-out,” Miller mentioned. “I didn’t think I could win the U.S. Amateur anymore. I had no interest in playing three events a year and finishing middle of the pack. It’s just not in my nature. I either was going to work as hard as I always did and keep going, or I was getting off the train, and I chose to get off the train.”
Hagestad definitely has begun to consider life after Walker Cup groups. Yes, he’s nonetheless the perfect mid-amateur on the planet – and it’s not notably shut – however he additionally simply turned 30, is on the cusp of diving into the enterprise world, is in a critical relationship and has desires of beginning his family sometime. He seems as much as guys like Dunne, Seth Waugh, David Novak, Sam Reeves and Michael McDermott, amongst others, all main figures who’ve had success on a number of fronts, from golf to enterprise to household.
“I have a lot of respect for them,” Hagestad mentioned. “They are people who are constantly volunteering to make the world around them better.”
Hagestad aspires to comply with the same blueprint, however he’s additionally bought extra to perform in golf. “At the end of your career,” he mentioned again in 2017, “everyone is going to be measured by a few things: how many USGAs you’ve played in, how many USGAs you’ve won, how many majors you’ve played in, and how many Walker Cup teams you’ve played on.” Smith, who nonetheless has three U.S. Mid-Amateurs and 5 whole USGA championships on Hagestad – stays the “poster on the wall,” and Hagestad nonetheless plans on constructing his schedules across the USGA championships. Making the minimize in a U.S. Open and profitable the U.S. Amateur are burning priorities.
As for Walker Cups, Hagestad says he’ll play this one after which take a while off for reflection.
“There’s a lot that you give up [trying to make these teams], whether it’s professionally, monetarily, as a family, a lot of different components of your life,” Hagestad mentioned. “But I would never sit here and say I have no interest moving forward.”
Walker Cups are at all times relished as a result of gamers by no means know if they will play another one. Chances are, although, that Hagestad provides himself no less than another crack or three. He’s too good to not, even with the inflow of younger expertise each two years. Forget simply being a veteran presence within the U.S. staff room this week; Hagestad could be very a lot a man that no Great Britain and Ireland participant desires to attract out of the hat. For different mid-amateurs, they know that if “Big Stew” is within the area, the trophy runs via him and his broomstick putter. When you’re the perfect at what you do, it is exhausting for fierce opponents to provide that up.
But when it lastly comes time to let up on the pedal, whether or not that is a yr from now or 10, it’s a secure wager that Hagestad will probably be 100-percent dedicated. It’s in his D.N.A.
“When people call others underachievers, that’s one of the biggest insults that there is,” Hagestad mentioned. “I want people to be like, ‘Listen, Stew’s the best mid-am. That guy worked the hardest, put more into it, did everything in his power to do everything he possibly could to get as much out of his game and his experiences as possible. He threw everything he had at being as good at this as he possibly could have.’ As long as you do that, it’s all you can do.”
Oh, and don’t overlook to benefit from the experience.