Nate McCoy’s Amateur Reinstatement Bonds Three Generations
JUPITER, FLORIDA | With a puff of smoke wandering out of his cigar, Mike McCoy peers into his rangefinder and relays a number back to his son, Nate. Then, after flicking the cigar aside, Mike gives a nudge of encouragement to his partner: “Stuff it in there, Nate.”
Nate obliges, striping an iron shot to within 10 feet. And away the two go, driving off quickly toward the green.
Mike and Nate McCoy successfully collaborating on a golf course isn’t unusual. They’ve been together in competition on prominent stages – Nate caddying for his dad at the 2014 Masters and Mike caddying for his son through PGA Tour Canada Q-School back in 2012, just to name a couple – but they’ve never done something quite like this.
This week at the National Senior-Junior Championship, 56-year-old Mike is relishing the cocktail-tour debut of 28-year-old Nate. Mike is a noted veteran on the circuit, a past Walker Cup player who won the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur and loves traveling from tournament to tournament with his timeless swing. Now the mid-amateur scene welcomes Nate, arguably the best golfer the Iowa State Cyclones have had and once a PGA Tour Canada winner.
Nate’s run as a professional golfer ended in 2016 when he failed to make it past the second stage of Web.com Tour Q-School. He was reinstated as an amateur late last year and now works for the Iowa Golf Association as its manager of championships and course ratings. He still hopes to play plenty of golf, but it will be while wearing shorts.
That’s if he can find a pair. He may have been the only golfer wearing pants on the Dye Preserve property on a humid, winter day.
“I actually don’t own a plain pair of shorts that doesn’t have paint on them,” Nate said with a laugh. “I’ll plan on having a pair by the next tournament.”
Gone is the guilty feeling of wondering whether his 2-year-old daughter will remember him the next time he walks in the door after several weeks away from home.
Returning to the amateur game is a transition beyond changing trousers. But Nate’s game still looks like it belongs to an aspiring pro. Like his dad, he demonstrates superb ballstriking and has an uncanny knack for hitting it close with his irons, a particularly nice attribute in the Senior-Junior format. The 54-hole event started Monday with best ball and continued Tuesday with a Chapman style of play where both players on a team hit their first two shots before one ball is selected and the shots are alternated from that point forward.
“It’s a hard format on the greens,” Mike said. “You’re trying not to leave your partner a tough putt.”
That happened many times for the two of them during Tuesday’s round. They started well, making birdies on Nos. 1 and 6 before Mike rolled in a 25-foot putt with the flag in on the par-3 seventh. Despite their hot start, the McCoys cooled off on the back nine and followed up their first-round 66 with a 69 for 135, leaving them four strokes behind the Louisiana team of Tommy Brennan and Patrick Christovich (67-64). Mike joked that he hopes the Clemson football team winning the national championship is a sign he will be on the winning side once again at the Senior-Junior; Mike won the event two years ago with John Engler and hopes to make a comeback with Nate during Wednesday’s final-round scramble format.
But far more than the score, it’s a great atmosphere for Mike and Nate to enjoy the game together while still being competitive.
“I know he’s been looking forward to it,” Mike said. “It’s pretty exciting for me to have him out here, because he’s been seeing me do this for 20 years and he’s been thinking about something else for the past few years so it’s nice that now it’s about us both enjoying golf.”
Gone is the overwhelming pressure of Nate having to perform with his job on the line. And gone is the guilty feeling of wondering whether his 2-year-old daughter will remember him the next time he walks in the door after several weeks away from home.
“It just hit me that with a family at home, this just wasn’t going to work forever,” Nate said. “I wanted to be there for my daughter. When I graduated, we got married and I pretty much went straight from college to Canada. It was a brand new experience. I got thrown in pretty quickly. You have to know how to shoot low really fast … it goes quick, that’s for sure. It felt like the other day, I was deciding not to play professional and here I am.”
More than 30 years ago, a 24-year-old Mike went through two PGA Tour Q-Schools before deciding professional golf wasn’t the route for him. He opted for a career in insurance with amateur golf giving him his fill of competition.
It’s a difficult transition to make, but Mike envisions Nate having an easier time moving forward.
“The one advantage he’ll have is that he’s sort of seeing the tournaments that I play in and he knows a lot of my friends that are out here so it won’t be quite as difficult,” Mike said. “I think he’ll be more at ease because he’s been around it a little more. I didn’t know a lot of people when I was first doing it. I had a couple of guys take me under their wing, but it took awhile. This should be a quicker transition.”
The McCoys have often caddied for each other in big events, and occasionally they have played on the same side as well. The duo has won the Iowa Father-Son tournament and participated in the Pine Valley Father-Son. But this experience is particularly exciting because of what is to come.
Nate plans on a lot more mid-amateur experiences, whether he’s on the same team as Mike or not.
“When you’re playing, you know how the course is playing and you can empathize a little more,” Nate said. “When you’re caddying, sometimes you don’t understand some of the things he did. We’re such competitors that we kind of do better playing with each other than caddying (for) each other.”
Mike McCoy (left) and Nate McCoy Photo: Sean Fairholm
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