photo courtesy of USGA / Chris Keane – click to open
The Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy is headed overseas. Lukas Michel, 25, of Australia, became the first international golfer to win the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, rallying twice from 3-down deficits to defeat Joseph Deraney, 36, of Tupelo, Miss., 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final Thursday at Colorado Golf Club.
By winning the 39th playing of this national championship for players 25 years of age and older, Michel earns an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Open Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., scheduled for June 18-21.
He’s also the second Australian to claim a USGA title in 2019, joining U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Gabriela Ruffels, and the 12th overall from his country to win a USGA championship.
“Being the first international to win, I mean, it’s a massive thing,” said Michel. “Being the first of anything to win something is always great, a great feeling.
“[Saying I’m a USGA champion] sounds unbelievable. It sounds almost too good to be true. Yeah, I guess it will sink in in the coming hours or days. But, yeah, I mean, I’m looking forward to what comes with it in the future for my golf.”
Over the 35 holes, Michel shot the equivalent of 4 under par, with the usual match-play concessions, and Deraney was 3 under. Since the 12th hole of the morning round, the two competitors only tied six holes.
Had it not been for a change in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ exemption – from anyone in the top 400 to the first 30 age-eligible players in the WAGR – Michel likely would not have made the 20-plus-hour trans-Pacific flight from Melbourne to Denver.
Traveling that far for an 18-hole qualifier with limited spots didn’t make much sense, especially since Michel, currently No. 287 in the WAGR, had already been to the U.S. earlier this summer to play in the Sunnehanna Amateur, Northeast Amateur and North & South Amateur. After failing to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in July, he flew home, about a month before qualifying began for the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
“American golf is the best golf in the world, there’s no question about it,” said Michel. “So coming over and playing great golf and beating a really strong field of mostly America’s best mid-amateurs. I mean, that’s everything. And the world’s best mid-amateurs now because of that new exemption criteria.
“Obviously, it makes the field stronger and harder to win and all that, but I’m obviously happy that exemption category was added. I think it makes the event stronger and I think that’s got to be a positive thing.”
“I tried to explain this yesterday and I kind of struggled,” said Michel. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it. Just all week I’ve been feeling really relaxed. It’s just felt easy, especially on the greens.
My putting has been great. So I guess when I got closer to the hole the more confident I got. It just kind of happened. But I guess it probably has something to do with the [host] family I’m staying with, looking after me really well. Just having a good night’s sleep and relaxing and enjoying it with my caddie, Will Davenport, who [did] a great job.”
Michel can rest now. A long flight back to Australia awaits, along with plenty of congratulatory text messages and voicemails. But the title is his, along with some major history.
What the Champion Receives
Lukas Michel earned the following for winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur:
- A gold medal
- Custody of the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy for one year
- An exemption into the 2020 U.S. Open Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club
- Exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateur Championships: 2020 at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and 2021 at Oakmont Country Club
- A 10-year exemption into the U.S. Mid-Amateur: the next three sites are Kinloch Golf Club (2020), Sankaty Head Golf Club (2021) and Erin Hills (2022)
- A likely invitation into the 2020 Masters Tournament