In a match between two North Carolina residents looking for a national title within their home state, Kevin O’Connell of Cary, N.C., defeated Bret Boner of Charlotte, N.C., 4 and 3, in the 38th U.S. Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club.
O’Connell, a 30-year-old golf equipment representative who starred at the University of North Carolina, drained the drama from the 36-hole finale by winning five consecutive holes to start the back nine of the first 18 holes. The match had been all square through the opening nine until O’Connell made his run with two birdies, two pars and one bogey. Boner, a member at Carolina Golf Club who had a large crowd in his corner, fought valiantly in the final round by winning four holes, but the former Auburn University player never got closer than 3 down.
With the win, O’Connell receives an invitation to the 2019 Masters, the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst.
The most critical moments for both O’Connell and Boner may have occurred during the semifinals when both players needed inspired rallies to advance.
After rinsing his tee shot on the par-3 11th to fall 4 down to firefighter Kyler Sauer, O’Connell reversed course and won four of the next five holes to force a playoff, which he won with par on the first extra hole. Meanwhile, Boner had his hands full when highly ranked Stewart Hagestad took a 1 up lead with five holes remaining. Boner then birdied Nos. 14 and 15 before clinching the match with a 22-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
O’Connell’s road to the title included what may have been an even more clutch performance in the quarterfinal against Argentina’s Andrés Schonbaum. Nursing a 1 up lead with four holes remaining, O’Connell lost the next two holes and was forced to birdie the final hole to send the match to extra holes. He won with par on the first playoff hole.
Prior to the dramatic quarterfinal and semifinal matches, O’Connell didn’t have quite as much stress. He defeated Frank Alafoginis in the round of 16, 4 and 3; Broc Haymon in the round of 32, 2 and 1; and Nick Reardon in the opening round, 8 and 7. He opened stroke play with a 1-under 141 to earn the No. 10 seed.