During one of his practice rounds early this week for the 81st Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Stewart Hagestad heard a spectator yell to him something to the effect of “enjoy the ride.”
It made sense. After all, that’s all the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion has ever done at the Masters.
Since the season’s first major began inviting the Mid-Am champion in 1989, none has ever made the cut to the weekend.
“It kind of ticked me off a little bit,” Hagestad said. “And I’m like, ‘Shoot man, I feel like I’m generally a pretty decent ball-striker, like it’s not that hard, it’s just a golf course, come on, go out there and show them what you can do.’ ”
Hagestad, 25, made Masters history this week, becoming the first Mid-Am champion to make the cut when he shot rounds of 74 and 73 in difficult windy conditions to easily fall inside the cut number of 6-over 150 by three shots.
All amateur golfers can rejoice in the accomplishment. U.S. Mid-Am participants are 25 and older, generally hold full-time jobs and play golf as a hobby. Amongst the world’s best professionals and young aspiring pros at Augusta, they’re the everyman’s golfer.
Hagestad grew up in Orange County, Calif., attended the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head Island for high school, played golf while earning a degree at the University of Southern California and moved to New York to take a financial analyst job.
“I had [pro] aspirations for a long, long time and it’s still something I think about every day. I’m not going to do it, but I think about it all the time,” Hagestad said. “Right around the end of my freshman year, sophomore year I realized just how good these guys are and that was the time I started working every summer and playing where I could, setting myself up in other ways down the road, resume building and getting experience.”
His golf career was reinvigorated last summer when he rallied to defeat Scott Harvey of North Carolina at the U.S. Mid-Am. Thanks to an accommodating boss, he has been on a leave for several months, giving him time to prepare for the Masters.
“As far as mid-amateurs go, I don’t yet consider myself one,” he said. “I’m in a very, very unique spot that I have the opportunity to play. It’s a unique kind of timing thing.”
Prior to Hagestad making the cut, four-time Mid-Am champion Nathan Smith of Pittsburgh, whose parents have owned a residence at Myrtlewood Golf Club in Myrtle Beach, came the closest in 2004. Needing a par on his 36th hole, Smith made a double bogey while playing with Arnold Palmer in The King’s final Masters.
Hagestad made the cut in style, nearly holing hit his second shot from 179 yards for eagle on the 18th hole Friday and settling for a tap-in birdie.
“My adrenaline was firing a little bit, because I knew kind of where I stood and I obviously knew the history with mid-ams and the Masters, and that’s been something that’s been on my mind the whole week,” Hagestad said.
He shot a 74 on Saturday with three birdies and five bogeys and enters Sunday’s final round tied for 32nd at 5-over 221.
In the competition for the Silver Cup for the low amateur, Hagestad has a four-shot lead over U.S. Amateur champion Curtis Luck, the only other remaining amateur in the field.
Hagestad said his goal Sunday is to finish in the top 12, which is currently at even par, to earn a return engagement at Augusta National next April.
“What’s that line from Miracle: Great moments are born from great opportunity,” he said. “Let’s go out and hit a bunch of fairways and a bunch of greens and see if we can really make something special.”
Hagestad, who is tall and lean, plans to play a full amateur schedule this summer and hopes to qualify for the U.S. Walker Cup team, then he intends to attend graduate school to earn a Masters in Business Administration and determine his next career move, possibly in finance or private equity.
“That’s part of the reason why I want to go back to school to help me better understand what I want to do,” he said.
Despite his performance this week against the top professionals in the world, that future won’t include pro golf. “Absolutely not. Nope, nope,” he said.
Hagestad had a week to remember even before Thursday’s opening round.
“The most nervous I’ve ever been on a golf course was the two practice rounds I played with Adam Scott and Thomas Pieters and Jordan [Spieth] and [Matt] Kuchar,” he said. “My nerves have gotten a little bit better since.”
Though he’s staying in two houses with about 30 family members and friends, Hagestad stayed with the tournament’s other four amateurs in the Crow’s Nest upstairs area of the clubhouse after the traditional amateur dinner Monday night.
“The experience of the amateur dinner, it’s all in honor of Bobby Jones and Augusta National’s affiliation and respect for amateur golf,” Hagestad said. “To go up there and have the same experience that so many great amateur golfers before me have had, it was the coolest experience.”
His Masters experience has lasted two days more than any other mid-amateur in tournament history.