The mid-amateur game is loaded with players who stepped away from golf for many years, swearing they would never again be signing their scorecard at the end of a round. The reasons for leaving vary – some want to focus on other career pursuits, some want to start a family and some desperately need relief from taking the game too seriously for too long.
In Rusty Mosley’s case, all three of those factors caused him to drop off the competitive golf grid for 12 years — about the longest drought you’ll see in high-level mid-amateur golf — until an unlikely renaissance the past few years. On his World Amateur Golf Ranking profile, Mosley’s brief self-description provides everything you would want to know about the 39-year-old and his auspicious return.
“A Cinderella story, out of nowhere,” the profile reads. “Someday I’ll be at Augusta.”
The out of nowhere part is true on several levels, and the adoration for the Masters is no surprise given his roots. Mosley, from the 10,000-person dot on the map of Vidalia, Georgia, which is best known for growing sweet onions, developed from the small town as one of the best juniors in the state. He reached the 2000 U.S. Amateur at Baltusrol a few weeks before embarking on a five-year career at Florida State University.
Getting to that first USGA championship appearance, the game flowed toward him. Little did he know, it would be another 18 years before he played in another USGA event.
“I was very naive as I think most kids are at that age,” Mosley said. “I played good in the qualifier, I shot 5- or 6-under to make it and thought, ‘Man, this is pretty easy, we’re going to do this a lot more times.’ But things don’t always work out the way you think they are going to. I didn’t soak in that experience. I was 18 and young and stupid thinking I’ll do this a dozen more times.”
Mosley was a regular in the Seminoles’ starting lineup his freshman year before being convinced to take a redshirt his sophomore season to address some of the mechanical flaws in his swing. The remainder of his college career could be described as respectable but not enough to give him the confidence that professional golf would be worth the trouble of hammering away at mini tours and Monday qualifiers.
“I have a ton of respect for someone like Brooks Koepka who went over to Europe and was scraping together money to play during a lot of time he was struggling, but that lifestyle never interested me.” – Rusty Mosley
And so he walked away from competitive golf without trying for the pro ranks. Instead, he got married and started a family shortly after school while also beginning a long career as a service manager with Cintas, a company best known for making workplace uniforms.
“You don’t go to that level of college golf without really loving it and wanting to make it professionally,” Mosley said. “It crossed my mind but in the back of my head, I hate to say it like this, but I really didn’t believe I was good enough. I have a ton of respect for someone like Brooks Koepka who went over to Europe and was scraping together money to play during a lot of time he was struggling, but that lifestyle never interested me.”
With his life focused on other pursuits, Mosley says he didn’t miss the game until his son had reached an age where he started to compete in Georgia State Golf Association tournaments. With the competitive itch returning as he wanted to display the talent that got him to the highest level of college golf, Mosley felt inspired to qualify for the 2018 Georgia Mid-Amateur where he finished eighth. He missed qualifying for that year’s U.S. Amateur, but later that year he made it to the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club where he went on an unexpected run to the quarterfinals by defeating medalist Stephen Behr, 1 up, in the round of 16.
A photo of an animated Mosley clinching his match on the final hole turned into his friends making a meme to celebrate the moment. Getting that far was a complete shock — Mosley was using a Titleist 983K driver that week, a club he used during college back before every driver was 460 cc. He had tested the trusty driver against newer models at a local golf store and saw the significant distance he was losing by using the old technology, but he balked at the $600 price tag for a new driver. His irons were a good seven years old, too.
He didn’t want to splurge at the time. His priority was saving for a trip so he and his wife could travel to San Francisco for a vacation.
“I came into that tournament with almost no expectations,” Mosley said. “I really just wanted to play in something where if you won, you went to the Masters. Being from Georgia, that’s the ultimate goal. I talked to Kevin O’Connell who won that week and I was asking him how he was able to keep it from his mind, because I had the Masters on my mind every single shot.”
Mosley’s tournament schedule has now expanded. He went on a torrid run in 2019, finishing runner-up at the Timuquana Cup, third at the Golden Isles Invitational, sixth at the Gasparilla Invitational and seventh at the Southeastern Amateur.
“When he gets going well, he’s going to finish it off,” said Keith Guest, a friend and fellow mid-amateur. “Rusty’s a top three or four mid-am in our state, and the talent here in Georgia is really deep.”
That year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur was one of the only times he didn’t find himself in contention, as he missed a playoff for the match-play portion of the event by one stroke after a clumsy 76 in the opening round.
“I’m still pissed off about that,” Mosley said.
This week he is playing in the Azalea Invitational at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina, which is not a terribly far drive considering what Mosley has needed to do to practice and play — his home course of Rocky Creek Golf Club in Vidalia closed in 2015 and hasn’t been revived despite his efforts to lead fundraising campaigns on multiple occasions.
“It’s shut down, grown over,” Mosley said. “There have been multiple attempts to raise money and renovate but all have fallen through. There is no golf course in Vidalia. It’s pitiful.”
Now he often has to drive nearly 100 miles to either Savannah or Sea Island to play at the type of courses he will see in high-level amateur competition. It’s not ideal, especially with a 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter at home, but Mosley is intent on living up to the summary on his WAGR page.
“It’s awesome getting back into it,” Mosley said. “It’s led me to people and places I never would have dreamed of meeting. It’s really been a treat. When you have those same feelings come back of making big putts, battling those nerves, feeling that again really lights my fire.”
Top: Rusty Mosley reacts to beating Stephen Behr in the round of 16 at the 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Photo: Chris Keane, Copyright USGA
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