Sammy Schmitz never has been to the Masters. Now, after an unlikely run through the U.S. Mid-Amateur golf tournament in Vero Beach, Fla. — capped by a match-play final victory Thursday that included a hole-in-one on a par 4 — the Farmington native has earned a trip to the hallowed tournament in Augusta, Ga.
As a participant.
That’s the biggest prize that goes to the winner of the Mid-Amateur, an annual event for top U.S. amateurs ages 25 and older. Schmitz, 35, who lives in River Falls, Wis., and works in the health care industry, had qualified for match play in the Mid-Amateur two previous times but had fallen short. This time, he harbored no grand illusions after a summer of second-place finishes in local events.
“I had planned on this being the last time I’d touch a golf club until March,” Schmitz said Thursday by phone, noting that he usually plays hockey and goes to plenty of Wild games in the winter. “I’m going to have to keep my game sharp.”
Not that he’s complaining.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Schmitz, who is No. 3,724 in the world amateur rankings, according to golfchannel.com. “It doesn’t feel very real right now. It’s very special to me. I can’t wait to get down [to Augusta] and be inside the ropes.”
The Masters, one of golf’s four majors, was won this year in April by PGA Tour Player of the Year Jordan Spieth.
Schmitz’s 3-and-2 victory over 29-year-old Marc Dull of Lakeland, Fla., in the 36-hole final on the West Course at John’s Island Club played out like a day of destiny.
First, his wife, Natalie, and friends Jordan Hawkinson and Jesse Polk drove eight hours through the night after scrambling to get on a last-minute flight to Atlanta to see him in the finals.
“They pulled in just as I was on the first tee,” Schmitz said. “I’m so happy they were able to make it.”
With another friend, John Hanner, serving as his caddie, Schmitz went to work. He was 2-up through the first 18 holes, but that lead was trimmed to 1-up through 27.
It turns out he was just saving his best for last. Schmitz had his lead back to 2-up with four to play when he walked up to the par-4, 260-yard 15th. He said he had been playing the hole well all week — something about the distance and two-tiered green fed right into his game. So he took out his driver once again and …
“It rolled up the slope and down the slope and into the cup,” he said. “We couldn’t see it, but we could hear everyone yelling and going nuts.”
It is believed to be only the second ace on a par-4 in USGA amateur competition. Derek Ernst accomplished the feat on the 299-yard eighth hole at Bandon Trails in the 2011 U.S. Amateur Public Links.
The unlikely ace put him 3-up, and he closed out the victory on the next hole.
He was the last one standing from a group of 64 who qualified for match play after two days of stroke play.
Schmitz, a two-time MIAC Player of the Year at St. John’s and a three-time Minnesota Golf Association Player of the Year, also gained 2016 exemptions into the U.S. Amateur and sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open. He is the first Minnesotan to win the Mid-Amateur since Jim Stuart, formerly of Duluth, in 1990 and 1991.
“I really hadn’t won a tournament all year,” Schmitz said. “There were a lot of tournaments where I just didn’t have it together down the stretch. But for some reason here, I never felt out of it.”