Standing on the 16th tee at The Country Club on Wednesday, losing to an opponent he felt he had outplayed up to that point, Brandon Hagy didn’t get angry, or frustrated, or impatient.
Instead, he became reflective, thinking back to a similar predicament he was in at the 2012 US Amateur. A year ago, also in his first-round match, Hagy was two holes down with two holes to play. He then took the next three, winning the match in extra holes. It spurred him, in his US Amateur debut, to an appearance in the semifinals, where he lost to eventual champion Steven Fox.
Fast-forward 12 months to Wednesday and Hagy’s first match at the 113th US Amateur. A one-hole lead through 13 holes against Ricardo Gouveia of Portugal had quickly turned into a one-hole deficit, the details of the turnaround that could have left Hagy scratching or shaking his head. A good bounce forward onto the green by Gouveia and a bad bounce backward into the fairway by Hagy at the 14th hole squared the match. Then, Gouveia took the lead when he holed a 30-yard bunker shot at No. 15.
Hagy refused to get rattled. He won the 16th hole with a par to square the match again, and after Gouveia had one more trick up his sleeve — draining a 30-foot putt at No. 18 to extend the match — Hagy calmly made a par on No. 1 to win the match in 19 holes.
“Maybe if I hadn’t had that experience last year, I might have got flustered and given it away down the stretch,” said Hagy, a 22-year-old from Westlake Village, Calif. “I just kept telling myself that I was playing really well.”
Hagy’s victory moves him into the round of 32, where he’ll face Scottie Scheffler, the reigning US Junior Amateur champion. Scheffler, at 17 the youngest player left, needed 20 holes to win his first-round match.
A member of the record-setting team at California that won 12 of 14 stroke-play events last season, Hagy is the last Bear standing of the five who qualified for the US Amateur. It’s a tight-knit bunch that won just about everything last season except the national championship. Hagy became emotional talking about the 2012-13 college season, especially when mentioning a text message he received Tuesday night from assistant coach Walter Chun.
The text was simple: “What are you capable of?”
“We played in a lot of great tournaments, played against great teammates,” said Hagy, struggling to get the words out. “Playing against them day in and day out just makes you better . . . it’s just the whole season, the hours of practice and hard work . . . yeah, we’re very tight.”
He’s carrying the torch for Cal now, joined by his father, Rick, who’s serving as his caddie. Hagy gave his Pop a nice present Wednesday on his 51st birthday, overcoming a late deficit to advance.
Hagy won the first hole, lost the next two, then won Nos. 6 and 9 to take a one-hole lead at the turn. He lost the 10th, won the 11th, and halved the 12th and 13th, setting up the finish.
“I thought it was my day, even after he hit those shots [and took the lead after 15],” Hagy said. “I hit some great up-and-downs on [Nos.] 2 and 3 and he made 25-footers on me. I felt like I had control of the match, three-putted a couple times and gave two holes away, and then he makes those shots.
“But I felt like I was playing well and didn’t think that it wasn’t my day.”
He’s already made one deep run in the only US Amateur he’s played prior to this year. Hagy is No. 11 in the world amateur rankings, fresh off one of the best seasons any college golf team has ever had, and playing with confidence.
“I’m really confident in match play, feel like I’m right there,” Hagy said. “I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and it will take care of itself.”
Before he returns to Cal as a fifth-year senior, he’d like to challenge once again for a US Amateur title. When many players might press, Hagy might have an advantage. He’s already proven that late deficits can be wiped out.
“I just had so much fun last year,” Hagy said. “Each match I won last year I just kept gaining confidence. Obviously there was disappointment that I lost, but it was more of a confidence boost that I was on the right track.”
Next stop: Round of 32.