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The finishing hole at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill. (PHOTO: Jim Owczarski)

U.S. Mid-Amateur gives players a chance at national championship

LAKE FOREST, Ill. - In a year the golf world will be buzzing about Conway Farms Golf Club, a private club built over 209 acres of former farmland in the northern Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, as the PGA Tour brings the BMW Championship to its 7,000-yard layout.

Beginning Saturday however, the club hosts one of 13 national championships run by the United States Golf Association (USGA), with the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.

Except for the U.S. men's and women's Opens, the USGA primarily runs amateur events. The U.S. Amateur is the other high profile tournament the organization runs, a championship Erin Hills hosted last summer in advance of the 2017 U.S. Open.

The Mid-Amateur is a unique tournament, however. The U.S. Amateur is an event that helps determine the best amateur in the world, drawing players from overseas and the best college golfers in the U.S.

While the players are, by definition, amateurs, they are often soon-to-be professionals playing for high powered college programs. All they do is play golf. This led to the creation of the Mid-Am in 1980.

Three decades ago the USGA saw that amateurs who went into the work force after college were becoming less competitive in the U.S. Am. The true "amateur" was being phased out of national championship golf.

Since the first tournament in 1981, players ages 25 and up can now compete to win a national title against similar competition. Saturday and Sunday will feature two rounds of stroke play, broken up over Conway Farms and the championship's companion site, the recently renovated Knollwood Club.

Match play begins on Monday, culminating in a 36-hole final on Sept. 13.

The winner brings home the Robert T. Jones, Jr. Memorial Trophy and historically receives an invitation to play in The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in the spring.

Wisconsin will be represented over the next week by three golfers who qualified for the championship:

  • Nathan Colson, 29, Milwaukee: Played at Marquette and graduated in 2005 as Marquette University's all-time career scoring leader at 74.68. He averaged 73.66 a round in his senior year, the third best single-season total in program history. He has two of the top five all-time single season scoring averages. He also qualified for two U.S. Amateur Public Links championships.
  • Andrew Grow, 26, Madison: Played two years at the University of Wisconsin following a prep career at Homestead High School in Mequon. He advanced to the third round of match play in the 2012 Wisconsin State Match Play Championship.

    "This is the first year that I really had a lot of times where I could play more golf," Grow said.
  • John Kestly, 50, Pewaukee: Won the Wisconsin State Golf Association Governor's Cup Championship in June at Geneva National Golf Club in Lake Geneva. Is a member of Westmoor Country Club in Brookfield.

The Mid-Am holds special significance for Kestly and Grow, who will be playing in their first national championship.

"I was extremely excited," Grow said. "It's my first USGA event and it's a national championship, so I was calling friends and family and letting them know that I qualified. They were excited as well.

"It's the biggest tournament that I can qualify for that's not a professional event or the U.S. Am. This is the U.S. Am without college players. I'm just really excited to be down there."

Grow was the medalist at the Aug. 13 qualifier at Maple Bluff Country Club, shooting a 4-under-par 67. Kestly tied with Colson for second, three shots back. It was Grow's first attempt at qualifying while Kestly broke through after four tries.

"I tried the U.S. Amateur twice, but I've given up on that because I can't really walk 36 holes and keep up with these college kids," Kestly said. "I'm probably one of the oldest guys in the field. Just to be able to say I played in national championship is pretty cool."

All three Wisconsin qualifiers are exactly the type of player the Mid-Am was created for. According to his LinkedIn profile, Colson is a manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Grow is a financial advisor with Waddell and Reed and Kestly is the vice president of Boehm-Madisen Lumber in Waukesha, a third generation family business started by Kestly's grandfather.

The field is still very strong, with a lot of U.S. Am and Mid-Am veterans, and none of the trio can be considered favorites to win. Their hope is to play well enough over the weekend to make the cut and advance to match play.

"They're going to be playing over 7,000 yards and the history of this tournament usually two or three over makes the cut, so you've got to shoot 73-73, 73-74, that's pretty tough for a course that long," Kestly said. "I may hit it 270. A lot of these 25 to 35 year old's are hitting it 320. It's a big advantage for the young guys. Hey, you know – I'm an old man!"

Grow is also approaching the tournament with a bit of humor.

"I expect to play well but I certainly don't expect to win the thing," he said with a chuckle. "I just really want to get though the stroke play portion and get to the match play. One you're in match play anything can really happen. I just want to play solid and get a tee time for Monday."


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