PARKER, COLORADO | On the 10th tee at Colorado Golf Club, Andres Schonbaum lugs his clubs up the hill and plops them down. At first it appears he is without a caddie, but that changes 10 minutes later when his looper comes running over to help Schonbaum judge the wind as he grinds over which club to select for his approach.
If you want to know what the U.S. Mid-Amateur is like, so much of it can be described in these moments. The stakes don’t get any larger. There winner earns a U.S. Open berth and a likely Masters invitation, and getting there means you will be the last one standing out of 4,751 entries. Similar to how the old PGA Tour Q-School required six consecutive rounds of tournament play, the Mid-Am asks the winner to play six rounds of match play in three days. Winning is a badge of honor, and that honor means everything to the individuals who compete.
But what makes the Mid-Am different than any other golf event is that it ironically does not take itself too seriously. The players don’t do this for a living, which brings many variables into play. They honestly want each other to play well, and open encouragement is normal. In a match between Johnny DelPrete and Creighton Honeck that went extra holes, DelPrete had a 3-foot putt on the 20th hole to win. Honeck told him to knock it in. That’s not something you’ll see often in competitive golf, but it’s a common moment at the Mid-Am.
The golf is excellent but it’s not unlike watching college football instead of the pro game; brilliance, mistakes and wild momentum swings are often all seen in the span of a few holes. And more than anything, the atmosphere is defined by fun. Mid-ams believe that trying to beat each other is a riot. It’s just as compelling, perhaps even more so, than the potential of winning the tournament.
“We’re all here really for the fun anyway,” defending champion Kevin O’Connell said moments after losing in the second round.
The guy he lost to has become a good friend, but also an unlikely one. Schonbaum, a 28-year-old from Argentina, played college golf at Jacksonville State in Alabama before returning to his home country to work as an insurance broker. Schonbaum figured he would play a limited amateur schedule exclusively in and around Argentina, focusing on competing for his home country in team events. That changed when a chance meeting with Scott Harvey at the 2015 South American Amateur in Peru convinced him otherwise.
“He was about to turn 25, and I was telling him about the mid-am schedule and the courses we get to play in the States,” Harvey explained. “I knew he had the game to be successful over here.”
So why has Schonbaum spent the time and money to come over for these events? It all boils down to the exact reason competitors love mid-amateur golf.
That prediction has turned out to be true. While Schonbaum has continued to play in Argentina, he has now competed in three consecutive U.S. Mid-Ams, taking advantage of a rule the USGA put in place a few years ago that offers exemptions to any player in the top 400 in the world. That’s been enough to convince several international players to compete in the event. This year, Australia’s Lukas Michel and Guatemala’s Alejandro Villavicencio used the exemption and made it into match play.
However, the best example of this comes from the diminutive but powerful Schonbaum. For the second consecutive year, he reached the quarterfinals by defeating the defending champion (he beat Matt Parziale in 2018). He’s also formed many relationships by competing in other events. A few months ago in the Coleman Invitational at Seminole, Schonbaum led by one stroke with two holes to play before an unfortunate double bogey on the devilish par-3 17th allowed Harvey to claim his second Coleman title. Schonbaum has also been competitive beyond the mid-am stage, making it through a U.S. Amateur qualifier before finishing 16th at the Southern Amateur and 28th at the Porter Cup. His game and his affable personality have made the man everyone calls “Andy” a respected and endearing character in the mid-am game. Only one winner in the 39-year history of the U.S. Mid-Amateur has been from outside the United States, but don’t be surprised if the trend of more international players coming over continues.
So why has Schonbaum spent the time and money to come over for these events? It all boils down to the exact reason competitors love mid-amateur golf. He can’t practice much with his job, but he still has a desire to play against great players.
“I love playing in the States first of all because I think the courses are great,” Schonbaum said after his quarterfinal loss to Jason Schultz, a past winner on what’s now the Korn Ferry Tour. “They are fair and the challenge is awesome because they aren’t short courses. They are almost Tour length.
“I’ve been changing my schedule so I can play more in the States. I love the challenge, I love the players and I love the environment. That gets me pumped.”
Schonbaum visited the U.S. three times this year and played as much golf as he could, but his next trip back won’t be until April when he returns to the Coleman Invitational. But as for this week in the dry, rarefied air of Colorado, Schonbaum gained a few more friends and more acceptance as one of the more gifted mid-amateur players in the world. When the World Amateur Golf Ranking comes out next Wednesday, it will likely show him within the top 300.
That moment when he carried his own bag for a few hundred yards was followed shortly by a 40-foot birdie putt he made to win the hole. And in just a few minutes, so much of what makes the mid-amateur game great was on display. Tremendous golf being played by humble people looking for common bond in competition.
That is what Schonbaum has found in the past few years of playing some mid-amateur golf in the U.S. It’s worth whatever it takes to make the long flights over.
Andres Schonbaum lines up a putt during the second round of match play at the U.S. Mid-Amateur. Photo: Chris Keane, Copyright USGA
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