It took two extra days, but a U.S. Mid-Amateur champion was finally crowned Saturday morning at Erin Hills.
Heavy rains early in the championship extended the competition and caused the all-Irish final – fitting considering Erin is Gaelic for Ireland – to be played over two days for the second-straight year.
Matthew McClean, a 29-year-old optometrist, led 2 up after 18 holes over his 25-year-old countryman Hugh Foley on Friday evening before the two headed back to their shared residence, the house of Foley’s caddie Dan Benedum, to rest up for Saturday’s finish.
McClean never let Foley cut into his overnight lead, leading 4 up with nine holes to play and birdieing the par-4 30th hole to move to 5 up. Foley then won three-straight holes, but in the end, McClean ended up winning, 3 and 1, to become the first Irish winner of the U.S. Mid-Amateur and just the second USGA champion from Ireland, joining U.S. Senior Open champion Padraig Harrington.
“It was hard to sort of hang in there, but I didn't really do a huge amount wrong, so I just sort of felt if I kept on doing what I was doing, hopefully he wouldn't birdie the last six holes against me,” McClean said. “That was the plan, and thankfully it sort of just worked out in the end there.”
Foley entered the championship match between two top-200 world amateurs (McClean is No. 120 in WAGR, Foley No. 195) after beating McClean at the North of Ireland Men’s Open Amateur at Royal Portrush earlier this summer. Foley also won the South of Ireland Men’s Open Amateur at Lahinch, becoming the first to win both titles since Darren Clarke in 1990. McClean represented Ireland at the World Amateur Team Championship two weeks ago.
This week’s event marked each player’s first USGA championship.
“Me and Hugh have played a lot of golf this year,” McClean said. “He's beaten me twice. This the first time I've beaten him. It was hard not to think that it was going to be three in a row that I was going to get beat. We know each other pretty well; as I said, we're staying with each other for the past two weeks that we've been here. Yeah, it's been fun. It's probably in a way who I wanted to play in the final, but at the same time, it's not the person you want to lose in the final as well.”
In the short term, McClean plans to head down to Chicago with his girlfriend for vacation. In the long term, he can count on starts next year in the Masters and U.S. Open.