Photo Credit: USGA
In addition to Mark Harrell, who reached the semifinals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Capital City Club’s Crabapple course, more than 20 other players with ties to Georgia competed in the USGA event.
The only Georgian other than Harrell to advance to match play was Matt Robbins of Cumming, one of two players in the field who played his high school golf at Milton, whose attendance zone includes both host courses for the USGA championship.
Robbins won his opening match before losing in the second round, while fellow former Milton Eagle Tyler Gruca did not qualify for match play despite shooting even par 70 at Capital City Crabapple in the second of two stroke play qualifying rounds.
Robbins tied for 28th in qualifying with scores of 71 at Crabapple and 74 at nearby Atlanta National for a 4-over 145 total. He drew Finley Ewing IV of Dallas in the first round, with both players having previous competitive experience on the standout Tom Fazio design.
Ewing was part of the Texas Tech team that competed in the 2013 NCAA Championship at the Capital City Club Crabapple course, while Robbins had represented the GSGA a few times in the Peters Cup, a biennial competition against club pros representing the Georgia PGA.
The match was all square going to the 18th hole, with Robbins managing a par on the lengthy par-4 finishing hole while Ewing made bogey. Neither player had a lead of more than one hole during the match, with Robbins twice taking 1-up leads on the back nine with a birdie on the short par-3 13th and a par on the long par-3 15th. Robbins bogeyed the 17th to give up his lead, but hit an excellent approach to the 18th green after a slightly errant drive into the rough forced him to hit a low run-up shot he estimated went the last 40 yards after landing.
After Ewing missed his par putt, Robbins holed what he said was “my longest putt of the day,” a 6-footer for par and the win. The two players halved the first five holes with pars, with nine of the last 13 being won by one of the two players, five by Robbins. He won four of his holes with pars, taking the 13th when he hit his tee shot within a foot of the hole. Robbins shot 1-over 71 in the match, with Ewing carding a 72.
“This means a lot,” Robbins said after his victory. “I was out of golf for about eight years.”
The announcement in early 2015 that the Mid-Amateur was going to be played in the Atlanta area this year rekindled Robbins’ desire to compete again after spending most of his free time the previous eight years focusing on his two young children and their youth sports activities.
His wife and children helped convince him to resume playing competitively, and Robbins qualified for the Mid-Amateur for the first time since making it into the event in back-to-back years in 2004 and ’05.
“Capital City getting this tournament gave me a reason to start playing again,” Robbins said. “I played here a couple times in the Billy Peters Cup. I like the course and was undefeated in singles on it.”
About a month prior to the Mid-Amateur, Robbins won the club championship at Crystal Falls with a playoff chip-in a la Larry Mize at the Masters, and that and a 68 in a Mid-Am qualifier in Montgomery propelled him into the field for the championship for the first time in a dozen years.
This was the sixth USGA event for Robbins, who qualified for the U.S. Amateur three times during his college career at Troy State, where he was a two-time Division II All-American. After he graduated in 1995 he spent about five years at the mini-tour level, with his best showing a tie for second in a Hooters Tour event in Evansville, Ind.
After ending his pro career, Robbins regained his amateur status and played in two Mid-Ams before limiting his golf to mostly corporate outings and charity events.
Once he began preparing for the 2017 Mid-Am, Robbins said he “realized how much I missed it,” and his time away from competitive golf has made him appreciate it even more.
“There’s a lot less pressure now and I’ve learned to accept the results. My goal for the tournament was to just focus on every shot and whatever happens happens. “
Robbins was even going to the back nine in his second round match against PGA Tour caddie Corby Segal, but struggled to get the ball in the hole, a sure way to lose a match against a player with a deft putting touch. Segal went 2-up with birdies at 12 and 13, made a nice par save at 15 for a half and won the match 3&2 with a par putt of length at the 16th.
“I hit the first eight greens in regulation and was one-over,” said Robbins, who did not make a birdie in the match. “I just couldn’t get back together mentally.”
Despite the loss, Robbins said it was “a great week. It would have been nice if I could have made it more of a challenge today.”
Robbins was the lone Atlanta area player to qualify for match play, but almost had a second. Capital City Club member Matthew Swan shot a second round 69 at the Crabapple course for a 146 total, and was among 25 players who tied at that score, necessitating a playoff for the final 16 spots in the field. He had four birdies in a row in his 69, and was 3-under for his round before bogeys at 16 and 17. Another on the first playoff hole cost him a spot in the match play field.
Missing a spot in the playoff by one shot was Augusta’s John Engler, who reached the Mid-Am match play semifinals in 2011. Engler shot 76 at Atlanta National before carding a 71 at Capital City Crabapple. Atlanta’s Robert Sheats and Berry College golf coach Brian Farrer both missed by two at 148.
Other Georgians who qualified for the Mid-Amateur but failed to make it to match were: Savannah’s Bo Bradford and Doug Hanzel; Atlantans Bo Burdette, Tommy Caswell, Jason Coolik and Brendan Williams, also a Capital City Club member; Gruca and Byron Lay, both of Alpharetta; Statesboro’s Joe Deraney; Waynesboro’s Matt Jackson; and Georgia natives Derek Camp (Macon), Nick Cohen (Albany), Drew Downs (Hinesville); John Eades (Atlanta), Michael Rogoff (Atlanta) and David Watts (Chatsworth).