Lukas Michel first Aussie to win US Mid-Amateur
Australian Lukas Michel has become the first international golfer to win the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, rallying twice from 3-down deficits to defeat Joseph Deraney, 2 & 1, in the 36-hole final at the Colorado Golf Club.
By winning the 39th playing of this national championship for players 25 years of age and older, Michel earns an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club and a likely invitation to the 2020 US Masters.
Lukas Michel holds the 2019 US Mid-Amateur trophy (Credit: USGA)
He also becomes the second Australian to claim a USGA title in 2019 behind U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, Gaby Ruffels, and the 12th overall from his country to win a USGA championship.
“Being the first international to win, I mean, it’s a massive thing,” said the 25-year-old. “Being the first of anything to win something is always great, a great feeling.”
“[Saying I’m a USGA champion] sounds unbelievable. It sounds almost too good to be true. Yeah, I guess it will sink in in the coming hours or days. But, yeah, I mean, I’m looking forward to what comes with it in the future for my golf.”
An idyllic mid-September day greeted the players with the morning 18 of the final calm in terms of wind, but the breeze picked up after the lunch break, with gusts in the 25-30kph range.
As the temperature heated up throughout the day, so did Michel’s putter, and it was the flat stick that carried him to the championship.
He grabbed his first lead since the second hole on the par-5 33rd, converting a challenging 12-foot birdie putt. One hole later, he lagged a 30-foot eagle putt from the fringe to 18 inches for what turned into a winning birdie when Deraney failed to make his 12-footer.
“Over 36 holes when a guy doesn’t miss a putt inside 10 feet, eventually it was tough to beat him, right?” said Deraney. “He might have missed one putt inside 10 feet [on 12 in the morning.] He played great and putted probably the best I’ve ever seen over the course of, what, 35 holes?”
Deraney, a stay-at-home dad who has captured the last two Canadian Mid-Amateur titles, had a chance to force the match to a 36th hole when he knocked his pitching-wedge tee shot to the downhill, 211-yard, par-3 35th hole to 10 feet. But the putt broke to the right more than he thought.
“I hit a good putt, hit it right where we were looking,” said Deraney. “We had it about a cup out and it broke a cup and a half.”
“I hit a lot of great shots. I didn’t lose because I was nervous. I just lost because he beat me.”
There was briefly an awkward moment on the green after Deraney missed. He took off his hat and went up to congratulate Michel, not realising he still had a 3-footer left for par. So, after premature applause from the spectators, the Australian quickly regathered himself and snuck the putt in on the right side.
“It was nerve-wracking, obviously,” said Michel. “But I holed it.”
Then he leapt into the air and enjoyed a bear-hug with his caddie, William Davenport, a 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur competitor who had been eliminated in the Round of 64 by 2016 champion Stewart Hagestad. Soon afterward, he was lifting the trophy
“I didn’t want to damage the greens,” said Michel of his leap, “but they were so firm I don’t think I could.”
Over the 35 holes, Michel shot the equivalent of 4 under par, with the usual match-play concessions, and Deraney was 3 under. Since the 12th hole of the morning round, the two competitors only tied six holes.
Had it not been for a change in the World Amateur Golf Ranking exemption – from anyone in the top 400 to the first 30 age-eligible players in the WAGR – Michel likely would not have made the 20-plus-hour trans-Pacific flight from Melbourne to Denver.
Travelling that far for an 18-hole qualifier with limited spots didn’t make much sense, especially since Michel, currently No. 287 in the WAGR, had already been to the U.S. earlier this summer to play in the Sunnehanna Amateur, Northeast Amateur and North & South Amateur.
After failing to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in July, he flew home, about a month before qualifying began for the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
“American golf is the best golf in the world, there’s no question about it,” said Michel. “So coming over and playing great golf and beating a really strong field of mostly America’s best mid-amateurs. I mean, that’s everything. And the world’s best mid-amateurs now because of that new exemption criteria.
“Obviously, it makes the field stronger and harder to win and all that, but I’m obviously happy that exemption category was added. I think it makes the event stronger and I think that’s got to be a positive thing.”
In both the morning and afternoon rounds, Deraney built 3-up leads, only to see Michel make comebacks. The turning point in the morning came when Michel claimed three consecutive holes from No. 13 to tie the match, including birdies on the par-4 14th and par-5 15th.
“I tried to explain this yesterday and I kind of struggled,” said Michel. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. Just all week I’ve been feeling really relaxed.”
“It’s just felt easy, especially on the greens. My putting has been great. So I guess when I got closer to the hole the more confident I got. It just kind of happened.”
“But I guess it probably has something to do with the [host] family I’m staying with, looking after me really well. Just having a good night’s sleep and relaxing and enjoying it with my caddie, Will Davenport, who [did] a great job.”
Michel can rest now. A long flight back to Australia awaits, along with plenty of congratulatory text messages and voicemails.
But the title is his, along with some major history.
Source – USGA