SEA ISLAND, GEORGIA | With the thrashing waves and wind blowing rain sideways into the coastline just a short pitch from the 17th green at Ocean Forest Golf Club, Nick Maccario turned his hat backwards to keep raindrops from falling into his line of sight. Finally, he discarded it in the direction of his golf bag.
If you are going to be introduced to the Jones Cup as Maccario was this past weekend, temperatures in the 40s with enough wind and rain to make a player uncomfortable is the most fitting baptism. Despite finishing near the bottom of the 84-player field that was composed mainly of the best collegians in the country, Maccario wouldn’t have wanted the experience any other way.
“I’m playing in a tournament where they are talking about Walker Cup hopefuls,” Maccario said. “That hasn’t happened to me very often. I want to be one of the best mid-ams in the country, and I know that sounds aggressive, but I want to play in events like this to get there.”
In the sunnier, warmer days of last summer, the 29-year-old from Haverhill, Massachusetts, north of Boston proved he could play at a high level even beyond the mid-am ranks. With a condensed Mass Golf schedule that placed several of the association’s most prominent events in July, Maccario recorded three consecutive runner-up finishes at the Massachusetts Amateur, New England Amateur and Ouimet Memorial Tournament before finally clinching a victory at the Hornblower Memorial Tournament. That consistent form won him the Richard D. Haskell Mass Golf Player of the Year award and made him a top-30 mid-amateur in the WAGR, but more impressive was the mental fortitude to keep putting himself in contention.
At the Massachusetts Am, he knocked off three past winners of the event – including 2017 U.S. Mid-Am champ Matt Parziale – to get into the championship match. Maccario faced a 4-down deficit through 28 holes and cut it to 1 down with a hole to play. But he ultimately ran out of holes, coming up short to Matthew Organisak. In the New England Amateur, he got into a playoff when 16-year-old John Broderick made a birdie in the fresh rain. At the Ouimet, it got even more frustrating when Chris Francoeur made a 40-foot birdie putt on the last hole to beat him by one stroke.
If you add in that Maccario won the 2019 Massachusetts Mid-Amateur by 15 strokes, it’s clear he has the game to be in the conversation with the top mid-ams.
“Talk about a heater,” said four-ball partner Mike Calef. “It was a wild ride. When Chris was standing over that putt on the last hole at the Ouimet, Nick kind of looked at me like, ‘Is he going to make this thing?’ And sure enough, he did. But then we went to the Hornblower, he did back to Chris what Chris had done to him. Nick never got rattled.”
And then there’s this: last August, during an ordinary Sunday morning round with friends, Maccario shot 15-under 56 at his home course, Bradford Country Club. He shattered the previous course record of 63, which Maccario also held, by seven strokes.
“People won’t believe me, but the night before the round I couldn’t get to sleep and I went through the round in my head pretending I shot 59.” – Nick Maccario
Two eagles, 11 birdies and five pars. Had he not missed a 3-foot birdie putt on his 10th hole, it would have been a 55 – the lowest score ever documented on an 18-hole regulation course. Then again, he holed a wedge from the fairway on the last hole for an eagle, so the golf gods gave him the shot back.
“People won’t believe me, but the night before the round I couldn’t get to sleep and I went through the round in my head pretending I shot 59,” Maccario said. “It kind of spooked me a little bit. … It still doesn’t register that I shot something that low.”
There had already been a foursome in place that morning sans Maccario, but when his friend Shawn Roderick struggled with car problems, Maccario found himself with a tee time that would turn into the round of a lifetime. He made an easy birdie at the first, lipped in an 8-foot par putt on the second and then went on a barrage to shoot 8-under 27 on the front. After the stunning miss on 10, he made a par on the difficult 11th, birdied four holes in a row and then escaped the hardest hole on the course, the par-4 16th, with a 5-foot par save.
The birdie-eagle finish only added to the insanity of it all. If you ask him what was different on that day, the answer is “nothing” – the most dangerous thought a golfer can have.
“Nick is a very polite and quiet person but make no mistake, if he is beating you, he will put his foot on your throat,” said fellow mid-am competitor Herbie Aikens. “He’s not cocky or someone who will throw it in your face, but he has a ton of confidence and we all know he can go really deep. It’s a fun thing to watch.”
From the age of 5, Maccario would ride along with his grandfather while he mowed fairways at Unicorn Golf Course in Stoneham, Massachusetts. As he got to his teenage years, Maccario eschewed hockey and baseball for golf, but still considers himself a late bloomer in terms of understanding the game. After captaining the golf team at Saint John’s Prep, he played at Saint Anselm College and was the Division II medalist at the NEIGA Championship his freshman year but decided against playing any further as he focused on getting his degree.
It wasn’t until after school when he realized playing competitive amateur golf would suit him. Maccario is in his seventh year working for Fidelity Investments as a sales associate and has the time and desire to travel the country for some of the premier amateur and mid-amateur events. His golf swing matches his personality. Rarely has anyone seen a backswing so effortless, making for a simple transition that doesn’t get bogged down in excessive movement. Another golfer of a similar build and height, Louis Oosthuizen, would approve.
Dave Adamonis, the executive director of the U.S. Challenge Cup Junior Golf Foundation, told a teenage Maccario that he would be a much better player when he was older. Somehow, Maccario says, Adamonis could see the maturity nearly a decade before it came to fruition.
“My girlfriend played field hockey in college and she’s super jealous I get to play because there aren’t many sports where after college, you might be able to play just as big events and stay competitive with your peers,” Maccario said. “And then we get to play some of the best courses in the country. It’s Ocean Forest this week, then Palma Ceia for the Gasparilla, then Country Club of Charleston for the Azalea, then Naples National for the Terra Cotta … the list goes on.”
At the top of that list, circled in red, is this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at Sankaty Head Golf Club in Nantucket. It may take a ferry ride to get there but it’s a home game for Maccario in the biggest tournament of the year.
“I wouldn’t trade it for any other tournament,” he said. “Everyone wants to come watch, but I tell them let’s not put the cart before the horse. I still need to qualify or be exempt first.”
If he plays anything like he did last year, getting there won’t be an issue in the slightest.
Photos by David Colt, Mass Golf
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