Why the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur keeps calling my name

Mary Jane Hiestand, the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur runner-up, reacts to a putt at Champions Golf Club in Houston. The 58-year-old very nearly played herself into the U.S. Women's Open -- a new perk at this year's championship. USGA photo

Mary Jane Hiestand, the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur runner-up, reacts to a putt at Champions Golf Club in Houston. The 58-year-old very nearly played herself into the U.S. Women's Open -- a new perk at this year's championship. USGA photo

I wanted to play in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. I’ve felt that way for five years, and my gut says eventually it will work out (two failed qualifiers down, a lifetime to go, right?). In my head, I always thought it was the USGA championship for us mere mortals, but now I’d like to rephrase that. It’s championship for those of us with day jobs.

This is what struck me when I read through the player bios earlier this month in anticipation of the championship. The middle-aged aspect of the tournament is communicated well enough, but on the women’s side at least, it’s easy to miss the careers that are balanced with this level of competition. When the USGA sent out its list of player storylines, I found myself totally captivated. There are women playing on the highest tier of our sport who spend their days working as legislative aides, civil engineers, college golf coaches, small businesses owners (from graphic design to heating and cooling), doctors and physical therapists, software company executives, caseworkers for neglected and abused children...and that’s just the players in the first half of the alphabet.

“I love getting to know anybody that's my age that plays golf competitively,” said Olivia Herrick, the graphic designer and high-school golf coach who was a standout for Drake, after the Round of 16. “I feel like all of us here are kindred spirits. When you can ask someone, ‘What do you do professionally?’ and that's the first question you can ask someone, I just think that's so awesome.”

Writing for amateurgolf.com last week, my coverage experience was a study in this. With each phone call, I felt like I was getting a little bit more insider information into how I could reach this level and actually compete. The feedback I continually got was that there’s a camaraderie among players. As one player said, “We fix each other’s swings on the driving range.” That was Courtney McKim, who played on the Alabama national-title squad in 2012. To go from that level of competition to valuing the player-to-player bond says all you need to know about this sport.

To me, the biggest challenge would be confidence in your game. McKim covered that too. In college, it’s about being good week in and week out. Mid-amateur golf is about playing well for one week -- and it has to be the right week. That’s a great way to put it. Can you imagine the pressure? 

Before my August qualifier, I read an account on The Fried Egg blog of a male mid-amateur’s quest to reach match play at the U.S. Mid-Amateur. The winner of that event, of course, gets to play the Masters. As this writer and competitor, Andy Johnson, put it, the Mid-Am is the working man’s long-shot to Augusta.

I felt a tiny piece of that when the USGA announced last month that the winner of the Women’s Mid-Am (along with the winner of the U.S. Girls’ Junior) would earn a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open. Truly, that’s something to play for, and the Women’s Mid-Am made a huge gain with that exemption.

The first year that prize was on the table, we almost sent a 58-year-old lifetime amateur with more than 40 USGA championships under her belt. Alas, that player, Mary Jane Hiestand, lost in the final match. The fact that there’s a viable way for a player like Hiestand to get to that level gives all career amateurs a reason to dream.